tallon talents

Changing education is like ‘moving a battleship on the ocean’: Departing NY Regent reflects on his tenure

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Regent James Tallon after a recent Board of Regents meeting.

Regent James Tallon will not seek another term on New York state’s education policymaking body, he told Chalkbeat this week, opening up an empty spot on the board and continuing the transformation of the 17-member group.

“I have told the Senate and Assembly that I don’t intend to seek a fourth term on the board,” Tallon said. “I’ve really enjoyed my 15 years of service and this is largely a personal decision.”

Tallon, a former state assemblyman who chaired the Regents’ budget committee, led discussions about ensuring all schools, particularly high-needs schools, have the resources necessary to improve. Though budgetary power rests with the legislature, Tallon is well-versed in school funding and has been a strong advocate for the Regents’ agenda, said Peter Goodman, who attends the Regents meetings and writes a blog about New York state education policy.

That loss is particularly important this year, since Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed significant and controversial changes to the way the state funds schools, drawing ire from several education advocacy groups, he said.

With Tallon’s term finishing at the end of March, the state legislature will appoint a new member.

“He’s not replaceable,” Goodman said. “He knows all the ins and outs of the budget and he’s very, very well regarded by the legislature.”

Chancellor Betty Rosa said Tallon has made “vast and substantial contributions” to the board.

“His knowledge, decorum and counsel have proven invaluable to the Board time and time again,” Rosa said.

Tallon’s departure comes in the aftermath of other major transitions on the board. The Regents gained seven new members in the last two years and elected a new chancellor in March — ushering in a shift in the dynamics and policy direction of the board. It has, in general, moved away from the learning standards and teacher evaluation system ushered in under Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Those changes were partially responsible for an opt-out movement that spread to one in five New York families.

Tallon said the most important lesson he learned during his time on the board is that big changes take time.

“The controversies that sprang up about all those things, I think, in many respects were influenced by the speed with which we attacked all those issues,” Tallon said. “It is an enormously complicated space and making changes is, to some extent, moving a battleship on the ocean.”

Tisch voiced a similar sentiment when she stepped down last year. Tallon said he sees promise in the way the board is now looking to implement a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which allows the state to redesign how it measures and intervenes in schools.

The state’s education commissioner praised Tallon’s work and service to the Board of Regents.

“It is hard to imagine a more thoughtful, intelligent and forceful advocate for New York’s students, parents and educators than Regent Jim Tallon,” said State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a statement. “I thank him for his decades of service to the people of New York. He will be sorely missed by all of us at the Education Department and the Board of Regents.”

$$ and schools

Memphis philanthropists, school leaders talk funding strategies at D.C. forum

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Philanthropic and education leaders from 16 cities, including Memphis, attended a forum Oct. 5 in the nation's capital hosted by the DC Public Education Fund.

Memphis school and philanthropic leaders were in the nation’s capital Thursday to hear how a local philanthropic group has raised $120 million for school initiatives in Washington, D.C.

The Memphis contingent joined representatives from 16 other cities at a one-day forum hosted by the DC Public Education Fund on its 10th anniversary. The goal was to learn about how private donors have contributed to a decade of growth in District of Columbia Public Schools, its organizers said.

Memphis has an active philanthropic community seeking to improve the quality of public education through Shelby County Schools, the state-run Achievement School District, and the city’s charter schools. Millions of dollars in education grants from national organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Walton Family Foundation also have flowed into the city. This month, the last of a $90 million Gates grant that launched in 2009 for teacher and leader development will dry up for Shelby County Schools. (The Gates and Walton foundations also support Chalkbeat.)


Here’s how $90 million from Bill Gates spurred sweeping changes in Memphis


In recent years, Memphis philanthropists have sought to become more coordinated in their investments through the Memphis Education Fund, formerly known as Teacher Town. It’s considered a younger peer to the DC Public Education Fund, and both act as an intermediaries between their cities’ school systems and philanthropies. The older D.C. organization works closely with D.C. Public Schools to identify needs and fill them in collaboration with foundations.

The forum’s speakers included D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson and two of his predecessors, Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, who brought sweeping reforms to the district from 2007 to 2016.

The forum was meant to “reflect on a decade of transformation and to celebrate DCPS’ progress as the fastest-improving school district in the nation,” said Jessica Rauch, executive director and president of the DC fund. “Other cities are coming to learn from our partnership model and, we hope, will be inspired to implement some parts of our approach in their home cities.”

That means more than just writing checks. The agenda included strategies for supporting innovations in curriculum, celebrating excellent educators, empowering males of color, and partnering with families to accelerate student learning.

The gathering of philanthropic and school leaders took place at the newly modernized Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the nation’s first public high school for black students.

study says...

Democratic governors boost funding for schools with more black, Hispanic students. (Test scores, not so much.)

PHOTO: Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Elections have consequences, goes the common saying — and that turns out to be true in schools.

A new study finds that electing a Democrat for governor leads to more money being spent in districts with more students of color, though there’s no evidence that meant higher test scores or smaller achievement gaps.

“School districts with a high share of minority students receive significantly greater transfers from the state government than other districts when a Democrat is elected,” write researchers Andrew Hill and Daniel Jones in the peer-reviewed Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

It’s one of only a few studies to directly examine how politicians’ partisan affiliation affects education policy. Another recent analysis found that Democratic school board members in North Carolina led to more racially integrated schools.

Of course, state governors don’t unilaterally make education policy, but they are likely to have significant sway, as this study suggests.

In order to isolate the effect of electing a Democrat versus a Republican, the latest study looks at governors’ races between 1990 and 2013; the paper focuses on 67 closely decided races of the nearly 300 elections. The idea of this common research approach is that the results of a narrowly decided election are essentially random.

First the researchers look at whether a governor’s party led to a greater overall increase in education spending. The effects here were modest: Democratic governors increased K-12 spending by about $100 per person more than Republicans, though there was no difference in higher education expenditures.

But when looking at how resources were distributed — rather than how much money was spent overall — the results were more stark.

Electing a Democratic governor led to an increase of about $500 per student for districts with a majority of black and Hispanic students, relative to whiter districts, simply because under them the money was distributed evenly between high-minority and whiter districts. In contrast, under Republicans total spending was higher in whiter districts.

Similarly, the study finds that Democratic governors targeted additional money to colleges and universities that serve more students of color.

So did this this distribution of spending lead to higher achievement or smaller test score gaps? Apparently not, according to the researchers’ analysis of the federal NAEP test.

“We find no evidence that a Democratic governor leads to higher NAEP scores during her term,” Hill and Jones write. “Moreover, despite the large shift in funds to school districts with a large share of minority students, we do not observe a shrinkage of the black-white score gap.”

It’s not clear why that’s the case — and perhaps surprising in light of recent research showing that students benefit when more money is spent on schools.

It could be that other policy changes by governors swamp school spending effects, that gains from school spending take several years to manifest on NAEP, or that spending went to areas that might be beneficial but don’t show up in test scores. It’s also possible that the increase in spending was simply not an effective way to improve schools.

The paper also examines why governors from different parties distribute money differently — is it based on politics or policy? It looks to be more the latter. Democrats were not any more likely to send money to districts with higher share of Democratic voters or electorally competitive districts.

But in other respects governors do seem to be affected by politics. “Lame duck” Democrats — those in their final years in office who could not run for re-election — seemed to lead to a greater increase in overall spending.

K-12 education spending “increases when a Democratic governor is elected, and this increase is substantially larger during ‘lame duck’ terms,” the study says. “It seems as if governors are constrained by political considerations when increasing spending on elementary and secondary education; although it increases, their preferences might be for even larger increases.”