PD profiles town where DeRolph started, 10 years after first ruling

Interesting piece by Scott Stephens about what has changed (buildings and academic rank category), what hasn’t (the state’s share of funding) and what challenges continue (upkeep and keeping up). As Stephens writes:

Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of the first of four Ohio Supreme Court rulings that declared the state’s method of paying for public education unconstitutional.

It’s an anniversary that produces a peculiar mix of emotions in places like Northern Local, a district that sits in the Appalachian foothills on gently rolling farmland dotted with Mail Pouch tobacco barns and one-stoplight hamlets.

“Facilities have been the most dramatic change for us,” said Superintendent Jack Porter, who has headed the district for 12 years. “But if you build a new house and you can’t pay for the upkeep or pay the utilities, what happens?”

Couldn’t agree with Porter more. If you have pre- and post-DeRolph experiences to share, please do.


15 thoughts on “PD profiles town where DeRolph started, 10 years after first ruling

  1. What you describe about Germany and Japan is what I expected/half knew. I wrote a senior thesis for a sociology seminar that compared Japan and the U.S. and why they could never become the other (done in 1983-84 no less!).And I would go back to that experience I had with that paper: the cultural roots and behaviors in Japan and, I would argue, to a lesser extent Germany, allow them to have the types of education systems they have. The differences between the U.S. and those countries, culturally and behaviorally, explain, to me, why their education system will not be embraced here: the notion of the American Story is too strong to embrace the government outright winnowing down who can and who cannot pursue certain paths. Sure, that’s done anyway in more covert ways, but otherwise, I can’t imagine anyone campaigning to make us like Japan, which is a far more monolithic society.It’s a shame that we have to spend so much energy worrying about monitoring corruption rather than worrying about how to better serve our kids, ourselves and our future.

  2. The notion of a circle to describe the spectrum of governmental philosophies is a good one.I can’t answer the question about all industrial nations, but I know a little about a few: Germany, Japan, and India. A close friend of mine is a German native who teaches English in a public school in Dresden (a skill he learned as an intelligence officer for the East Germany Army). I’ve had the opportunity to stay with him at his home in Dresden, and observe his classes. The kind of school he teaches in is called a ‘gymnasium’ in German, and it is a school which focuses on a college preparatory curriculum. Here’s the catch — the only kids who can attend the school are those who have passed an entrance exam. Those who fail the exam, or choose not to take it, still get free secondary education, but it is in what we would call a vocational school.The Japanese and Indian system are similar. Kids are sorted out academically prior to high school, and sent to a school which the state feels matches their skills and aptitude. Once that decision is made, it’s hard to change the course of these kids’ lives.When I was last in Dresden, it was time for final exams for graduating seniors. The kids here gripe about the standardized tests. At this gymnasium, the candidates faced a couple of hours of oral exams given by a panel of teachers, some from other schools. Flunk the tests and it’s off to trade school.But pass the tests, and they get their college education paid for by the state as well. But they have to attend the local college, no running off to Berlin or Munich unless you want to pay for it.Your last paragraph says it well enough for me. The current system has problems, the system I advocate has problems. Both have to be monitored to prevent corruption.

  3. Paul – your comment is incredibly instructive, but I’m not sure it really says the same thing that you’ve said in other comments, do you think?When I learned about governments, I was taught that it’s actually a circle, so that as you move around clockwise, if you go too far, you actually end up back near where you thought you were starting.The push for public education was tied to the industrial revolution and the need for certain kinds of labor, in addition to the notions you mention. So there’s always been at least a few external pushes for educating mass numbers of people. With economies becoming more global and intertwined, the need for an educated populace continues to exist.How to accomplish that? How do other industrialized nations do it? I suspect they do it without a lot of the hangups we have, but then they may also be far more homogenious than the U.S. (Japan for example).We’ve created a country, we live in a country that is and will continue to be diverse, trying to meet diverse needs in one monolithic system. Our interests overlap and sometimes coincide, but the way in which we want to achieve our goal differs. And it can’t.I go back to what both of us agreed was important: flexibility. You believe that money following the kid provides that, but I’m just not sold. I’d need to see provisions for all the cracks that would exist in such a system. Then I’d at least re-consider.

  4. This is starting to remind of a Star Trek TNG episode where Picard was stranded on some planet with a being from another culture whose language consisted entirely of analogies. I think I’m that creature and you’re Picard in this case… (oh crap, another analogy). So let me give plain English a try:The citizens of our country receive a broad range of services from our government. Some of those services are designed to ensure that no one has to live below a certain quality of life or do without what we consider to be the necessities. In a full-blown communist system, the people own the state and the state owns all the property. The people don’t earn wages and they don’t have to buy anything. The state puts them to work doing what they’re good at, and the state provides for all their material needs. At least this was the dream of Marx and Engels, but I know of no case when it was actually implemented.The opposite extreme is anarchy, but just short of that is a system where the people create a government to handle a few roles, such as the common defense and the protection of commerce. A judicial branch is also handy. Past that, it’s everyone for themselves.We live somewhere in the middle, granting certain powers to the state while retaining as much freedom as possible. The hard part is figuring out when it is appropriate for the state to restrict the behavior of one individual for the protection of the whole. One of the first articles of the French Constitution says this well: “a man is free to do anything which does not bring harm to another.”For most of the 20th century, we American have struggled with finding a place on this communist/anarchist spectrum. When we lean towards the former, we get things like Social Security and Medicare. When we swing the other way, we get Enron and Worldcom (my last employer by the way).We’re stuck trying to figure this out with the public schools now it seems. Public schools were created from a leftist position, saying that all kids should have a chance to attend a good school, not just the rich kids who could attend private schools. The public schools have been a great, perhaps central component, to the success of America in the 20th century.But public school systems are no longer the one-room school house. Some have become enormous economic engines that simultaneously offer universal access to education, and yet come to behave like any monopoly — more concerned with its own well-being than that of its constituents.School systems can be too small. I’m suggesting that they can also be too big. As our population continues to migrate to metro areas, we have the chance in those metro areas to offer what I think is a reasonable configuration, a collection of independent schools funded with tax dollars that follow the students. These are not for-profit entities. No one gets a share of operating surpluses, and there are no investors (other than perhaps other not-for-profit entities like a university). But the kids get a choice, and the schools have to be effective, innovative and inspiring to attract kids and their money.As I’ve said before, as much as I like this notion, I’m troubled by the thought that with complete freedom of choice, schools would become monocultures because given the choice, that’s what many would prefer. Even if we did not allow schools to be religious in nature, the Muslim kids are going to end up in school with Muslim kids, and Catholics with Catholics, and Jews with Jews.That happens to some degree anyway, as communities often build around a shared religion. But maybe free choice in schools makes it worse.I’m going to reread Milton Friedman’s take on all this…PL

  5. Paul – That is helpful, further explanation. Here are my thoughts:On the food stamp thing: again, I see a difference because the numbers of people in need of food stamps isn’t determined in the same way as the number of people in need of education. We hope to decrease the number in the former group, but the number in the latter groups depends on birth rates. I just don’t see the demands as comparable. Also, there are in fact limits on what food stamps will cover – I’m sure you know that. So again, I just don’t think the analogy fits so well. IMO of course.To your last paragraph – it’s not so much the consumers that I don’t trust, although for sure I don’t trust all consumers, especially if we’re looking at parents as the consumer since the kids can’t really choose.Rather, it’s the for-profit providers I don’t trust. Their interest is fiduciary. And you can argue all you want that it’s in their best interest to please the consumers if they want to also please investors, but again, their interest will be to cut costs and corners – you may call it efficiency but when it comes to education, there are expenses that the provider must pay that have rewards which the provider will never get – because they are investing in humans.And that, I believe is the key problem for forprofits in education. They don’t want to part with the investment that they’ll never get back except in a grander sense of providing skilled people to our society. Forprofits want cash and educational investing doesn’t return cash to the forprofit provider. That, I believe, is one of the key reasons why forprofits in education are doomed.I do not see the usurping as you describe it. I see it as a guarantee. Again – this is like a seatbelt law or not legalizing gambling. I view these issues as protection, others view them as a restraint. I understand how both views are legitimate. But I know which view I prefer to govern the decision-making process.Thanks as always for taking the time to comment.Does this make my view any more clear?

  6. Jill:I’m not doing very well making this point, so thanks for your patience and dialog while I work it out.I think there are two distinct core concepts in play when we talk about school funding, but they have become so tightly bonded over time that we see them as one.The first concept is that every child in America should be given the opportunity to attend an effective school. Because not every family can afford to pay a full share of the cost to operate effective schools, we the people have granted the government the authority to collect taxes and redistribute those funds so that everyone can have access to effective schools.I support this notion completely. I grew up in an area (central West Virginia) where there was extreme poverty, and know that a good education is one of the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty. Like Bono, I would like to end poverty now, but you don’t achieve that with lifelong public welfare support. You do it by building an economic environment which creates high-paying jobs and by having a workforce which has the education to perform those jobs.The second concept is that a government-operated public school system is necessary in order to have effective schools. This is what I’m calling into question. There are plenty of examples of effective schools which are not government-operated public schools. While many are formed by religious groups, others are not. My favorite example is Metro High School here in Columbus, which is a Science/Math emphasis school. It is a transitional concept in that it is funded by a coalition of public school districts. Essentially, kids show up at this school with a voucher from their home school district. The difference between Metro and a typical public school is that Metro chooses to spend its money on top-notch teachers, state of the art equipment, and extraordinary learning experiences. They don’t spend any money on varsity sports or performing arts facilities (but we do have another school in the community which does have emphasis on the performing arts). However, there might be another set of kids and their parents who think varsity sports are an important part of the high school experience, and decide that they want to attend a school that teaches all the liberal arts basics, but has emphasis on one or more varsity sports. I listened to an NPR story once about a little school in New England that focuses on girl’s hockey. The students there got a great education, and nearly 100% of its graduates went on to college on a hockey scholarship (typically at pretty prestigious schools).Here’s another run at the food-stamps analogy. Everyone needs food and everyone needs an education. In the case of food, our custom is that folks buy whatever food they desire from whichever vendor fits their needs. For those who cannot afford food, we collect a tax from those with more money, and issue a voucher called a food stamp. The food stamp recipient can spend the voucher on whatever food they desire from whichever vendor fits their needs, just like everyone else. We don’t try to restrict the kinds of food a food stamp recipient buys, or when they can buy it.But with educational services, we collect taxes, but give the funds directly to the school system instead of the consumer. If we treated food distribution this way, everyone would pay a food tax according to their ability to pay (i.e. a progressive tax structure), but would have to get their food at the public commissary. The only kind of food you could buy were foods that did not violate the religious beliefs of any member of the community. I’m not sure what would pass that test. No more beef or pork for sure. In fact no meat at all since some religions believe the eating of animal flesh is taboo.Of course, in this kind of regime, there would be a black market for food, just as there were black markets for food in the Soviet Union, and black markets for booze in the US during Prohibition. In the context of education, these black markets are the private schools – accessible only to folks with sufficient disposable income.Certainly the richness of choice would be greater in a metro area than the bowels of Appalachia. But this is true for much more than just schools. Here in Columbus, I have access to four or five major shopping centers and hundreds of smaller storefronts selling goods from all kinds of cultures. In my hometown, there is one local grocery store and a K-Mart.So what am I recommending? First, that we continue with the policy of collecting taxes to ensure that every kid can attend an effective school. The greater one’s wealth, the more school tax they pay.But instead of giving the money directly to the schools, issue every kid a voucher which pays 100% of the tuition at an accredited and licensed school (defined in a separate comment). A condition to keeping the license is accepting vouchers for 100% of the tuition.Because this approach returns true freedom of choice to the consumer, I believe it will drive the creation of schools which are more responsive both to current needs, and to the unforeseen demands of our rapidly changing world, just as private supermarkets are more responsive to their community than any government commissary would be.Some of your comments suggest that you think we just can’t trust most folks to be good consumers of primary and secondary level educational services, so we need to usurp their freedom of choice and grant it to a body of wiser folks. Why don’t we go all the way and collect enough taxes to pay for post-secondary training as well? But you have to go to your local community college or trade school…PL

  7. Paul, we definitely have a difference of opinion on this issue. I do believe that it’s part of the constitution of this country and the social compact that gave rise to and has maintained that constitution that our money be cleansed of our religion – if you want to look at it that way. I’ve never worded it like that before, but I’m okay with keeping to your analogy.As for the food stamp v. education analogy, that’s not so tight, to me. Food clothing and shelter are basic needs, but the number of folks who need the food stamps, compared to the number of individuals who have to be educated don’t compare. So I have a hard time with that analogy.I’m not sure why you bring in the legality of religious, private or public schools – what are you getting at with that? When you say only affluent folks can send their kids to religious schools, I actually understand it to be the opposite. NOw, I could be wrong, but my understanding was that particularly for Catholic schools, the diocese shoulders a huge amount of the money. As for Christian schools, I don’t know a lot about them but again, I had the impression that they still are far less than an private, independent school.Now – as for the quality of the education, I know that the NAEP or is it the NEAP? – has, within the last two years or so, published reports that indicate that kids educated in private schools don’t necessarily do any better than kids in public schools.So – maybe some specifics regarding what you have in mind would be more helpful here?

  8. And on a more conservative point:I have a philosophical problem with the notion that it is okay for the State to forceably take my money in the form of taxes then give it back to me in services which have been cleansed of my beliefs. This is exactly what happens in the way public school system are funded and operated.I have no objection to being taxed an appropriate amount to ensure that every kid has the opportunity to attend a safe and effective school, in the same way that I willingly pay a tax that ensures that every person has the opportunity to receive appropriate nutrition. In the latter case, the mechanism we use is food stamps. A food stamp recipient is allowed to use those vouchers to purchase any kind of food in any store. We don’t tell folks their food stamps cannot be used to purchase halal or kosher food, or that they cannot shop in a store owned by folks from Thailand.Religious schools, and other kinds of private schools, aren’t outlawed in our country, only unaffordable for many. Only affluent folks can afford to send their kids to religious schools, because they can afford to pay both the tax bill for public education and the private school tuition. That doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it seems even more segregationist.Our public school funding mechanism may provide for public schools, but it also effectively protects the private schools from the unwashed masses.PL

  9. Okay – so I would back up this conversation even further: what do we value: isolation and homogeneity, or diversity? How do we balance the inherent goodness in each of those three concepts – because there are pluses to all three, just as there are downsides to overemphasizing any one of them.I teach my kids about how to be Jewish and still be secular. How to love Israel and still criticize it and evaluate its very existence. I teach my kids that having friends who are like you is comforting but having friends with whom you do not agree on everything is mind-expanding and provides potential for never becoming deadwood.So – again – we have to, in our laws, in our behaviors, in our economic efforts, in our social interaction, show what we value, through and through. And that means our education system too.

  10. Jill:Yes, communities do sort themselves out along cultural lines, and when we set up community school systems, like we have in Ohio, it creates cultural and socioeconomic barriers which, I believe, have many of the same effects as did the explicit racial segregation in place prior to the 1960s. I’m searching for a organizational and funding approach which counters this not-so-accidential 21st segregation, and a full-blown voucher system seems like a good solution.But it may also be true that such a system — in which families are free to send their kids to any school in any community — may actually exacerbate this segregation problem. For example, even if a building is not called “The Vietnamese School,” once a concentration of Vietnamese kids start to go there, other Vietnamese kids are likely to enroll at the same school for the comfort of being with a community of people from the same culture. In other words, the first order sorting happens by community, and the second order sort happens when families over the broader region direct their kids to specific schools with concentrations of other kids from their same culture. It’s easy to create a mind picture of the poor black kid from inner city Cleveland finding his way to Shaker Heights High School, voucher in hand, getting the benefits of attending school side-by-side with the rich white kids. But the reality might be that complete freedom of choice would actually worsen this implicit segregation I’m concerned about.PL

  11. Well, Paul, much of what you said exists in bits and pieces – the community school law kind of sort of allows for some of what you describe.Some additional thoughts:I’d rule out the eligibility of any school based on a religious-oriented mission statement to be eligible. I just am firm on my commitment to such schools being private. I do not want public dollars there – I feel strongly about that. That is a personal choice that no other American should subsidize. Just my opinion on that matter.As for the cultural lines that already exist, now, let’s be fair here. At most, at MOST, there are no more than 3.5% Jews in the entire country. That Bexley and Orange and Beachwood and other communities around the country have a concentration gives us the wrong sense of what the rest of the country is like – 60-70% White Protestant.Then, there’s the issue of schools sorting out kids. Parents sort themselves to some extent, no? Choosing, to the extent they can, where they live.Then, there’s the issue of…areas where parents aren’t so motivated to organize, or areas that lack parents for whatever reason. Who organizes in their absence?However, in general – and in theory, there’s a lot of appeal in what you suggest.But, big but – as a room mom and a parent who works very hard to be in the schools of her kids as often as possible, it’s not easy and fewer and fewer parents find or make or have the time to be involved.Whether that’s reversible or not, I don’t know – but it certainly puts a kink in some of the ideas you outline, yes?

  12. It would be a group of people who would need to apply to the State Board of Education for a license to operate a not-for-profit school corporation, be it for one school or a system of several schools. To be granted that license, the corporation would need to demonstrate that it has developed a curriculum which meets the same minumum requirements as public schools do today, and that it will hire teachers licensed by the State to teach that curriculum. It will also need to show that it has adequate and safe facilities, as well as a viable transportation plan (funded through the vouchers).Once in operation, the school corporation would be subject to the same performance scrutiny as the public schools, and would need to submit to financial audits by the same agencies who audit public schools. I would require the school corporation to have a Board of Directors elected by the families who send kids to the schools, and would require the Superintendent (CEO), Treasurer (CFO) and Board members to certify financial reports in the manner of the Sarbannes-Oxley regulations. The auditors would be required to report to the State licensing authority and to parents of students attending the school, telling them if they (the auditors) believe the school is being operated in a fiscally responsible way. In the case of public companies, the auditors are required to the SEC and the public if, in their opinion, a corporation is not healthy enough to be considered a ‘going concern,’ and I’m suggesting the same kind of duty for the auditors a school corporation.Any school which fails to live up to these requirements would lose their license and no longer be allowed to turn in vouchers for reimbursement from the State.Key to this is valuing a voucher at 100% of the average per-pupil spending in the community. Currently vouchers are valued at only a fraction of the per-pupil cost. The school districts say it isn’t fair to value vouchers at 100% of the per-pupil cost because when a student leaves a public school, not all costs go down (e.g. the costs to own and operate the buildings). But this is double-speak on the part of the school systems. When they want to argue for more revenue, they quote their fully-loaded per-pupil cost, when in truth the cost of one incremental student is about zero. As is usually the case with radical change, the problem isn’t so much envisioning the new system once it has been in operation for a while — it’s the details of the transition. Our school district is going through a stressful time right now because we are building a third high school and people are just coming to grips with the fact that their kids may end up at a different school than they expected. One of our high schools was the state football champ in their class this past year, and there are more than a few parents who are saying they want their kid to go to that school no matter what. In a few years, no one will care which of the three high schools their kid attends, but for right now, it’s very important to some.Same kind of situation with the transition to a school organizing approach which gives more choice to parents. The transition is where the pain lies. After a few years, it will seem normal to everyone.One objection that I’ve heard is that this kind of voucher approach is simply a way to get public funding for religious schools. I can assure you that this is not my motivator, but I understand the concern. Every parent should have the option to send their kids attend a school in which they have freedom from religion. But as long as that option exists, then I think it is okay to have schools which orient themselves along religious lines.Which starts another dialog altogether: if we allow schools to sort out the kids by cultural lines, do we weaken our country by eliminating one of the important components of the melting pot – the public schools? I’d argue that this isn’t as big a deal as we might think because our neighborhoods are already sorted on a socioeconomic basis. In Columbus, most of the synagogues and all the Jewish schools are in Bexley. The urban center is mostly African-American and Protestant. The west side is becoming Latino and Roman Catholic. In our district, we have entire Somali/Islamic neighborhoods. In fact, an important issue in our district’s current effort to realign attendence areas for the various buildings is that a purely geographic assignment will result in schools being segregated by culture.Lots and lots of issues here. Thanks for the forum.

  13. No, I’m not surprised. But what do you envision when you envision other forms of school organizations that are licensed and not-for-profit? Are you thinking of already existing examples or something else, or both?

  14. Jill:Good observations, and I especially agree with your point about flexibility. You probably won’t be surprised if I say that I think the best way to achieve that is to break the public school monopoly, and allow another forms of (licensed, not-for-profit) school organizations to develop. PL

  15. The Columbus Dispatch has also just completed a week long series on school funding. Unfortunately, it was the McNews version of the situation — lots of anecdotes, but not much research and analysis.The biggest challenge to solving school funding in Ohio is that there isn’t one homogenous set of conditions which can be solved with a single solution.The first situation is the metro area comprised of an urban district surrounded by suburban districts. In the urban school district, most students are African-American, poverty is pervasive, residential property values are low, and commercial properties have been tax-abated by the municipal government. Meanwhile, the surrounding suburban districts are affluent in comparison. In most cases, the funding problems of the urban district can be solved by collecting and redistributing excess taxes from the suburbs. However, the underlying implicit segregation continues, which is the bigger problem, in my opinion.The second case is the agricultural areas, where population density is low, but employment is high. Land valuations for tax purposes are also low, but this is a matter of public policy, not market value (a farm subsidy if you will). So in for penny, in for a pound — if we’re going to subsidize farming via reduced tax collections from farmers, then we’ll have to subsidize their schools too. The money will, once again, come from wealthy suburban areas.The third case is the post-industrial Appalachian areas. There is little industry or agriculture, high unemployment, low land values (because there are few buyers). The schools need to be subsidized in these areas to give the kids a chance to escape a situation their parents are unwilling to leave. The money will come from, that’s right, the wealthy suburban areas.You and I, and I suspect most of your readers, are suburbanites. We have the highest incomes and the highest property values. It doesn’t matter which factor of wealth gets the school tax attached to it (income or property), you and I and those like us are going to pay. And we probably should.The only other scenario is to bring money into Ohio from the outside. There are businesses in Ohio which ship products outside Ohio and bring money back, so we could tax them more. And they’ll probably leave. The other source of money from outside the state is the Federal government. We should make sure we get our share of that, but education doesn’t seem to be a priority for our Congressional delegation.So whether it’s the existing funding formula, or some new one that gets made up, if the problem is that there isn’t enough money being spent on schools in Ohio, then to solve it we will need to tax Ohio residents and Ohio business more. The Robin Hood scenario is now, and has always been, the reality.The consequence is predictable. Many businesses and some of our most mobile and employable residents will leave. What is left is a diminished tax base and a social structure with even more need of subsidy. This is exactly where we are today in my home state of West Virginia. And people wonder why Robert Byrd spends all if his time directing any piece of pork-barrel spending he can into WV. When he dies (probably on the floor of the Senate), WV may collapse economically.

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