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Jennifer Cohen Kabaker: All Related Content

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Education Watch Podcast: Bringing Data to the Classroom

June 10, 2013
Managing Editor Fuzz Hogan discusses with Education Policy Program Associate Clare McCann and former Senior Policy Analyst Jennifer Cohen Kabaker the potential that data holds for improving teachers' instruction in K-12 classrooms. They debate the merits and challenges of data-driven instruction in light of a new report exploring two states' efforts to give teachers the data skills they'll need for the 21st century.

Promoting Data in the Classroom

  • By
  • Clare McCann,
  • Jennifer Cohen Kabaker,
  • New America Foundation
June 4, 2013

This report explores the use of student achievement data to improve classroom instruction. The paper, Promoting Data in the Classroom: Innovative State Models and Missed Opportunities, highlights examples from two states, Oregon and Delaware, of federally funded, state-driven efforts to equip teachers with the tools they need to utilize student data.

A Romney Win Could Upend K-12 Federal Policy Landscape | Education Week

October 3, 2012

But most observers agree that Mr. Romney would not pursue additional education money, particularly for Race to the Top. "It's not that Romney is opposed to the ideas in Race to the Top," said Jennifer Cohen Kabaker, a senior education policy analyst with the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. "He's opposed more to the role the federal government took to encourage states to take part in the reforms."

3-Year Student Loan Cohort Default Rates Reveal Concerning Graduation Rate Trend

October 2, 2012

Yesterday, the Federal Education Budget Project, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, published the latest two- and three-year cohort default rates for every institution on its comprehensive higher education database. The percentage of students who enter repayment in a given year and default on their loans within either two or three years—the cohort default rate—is meant to ensure that institutions whose graduates cannot repay their loans are ineligible for federal student aid. What do the latest data tell us about institutions with particularly high default rates?

Currently, schools with two-year cohort default rates of 25 percent or above for each of the past three years, or over 40 percent for a single year, stand to lose eligibility for federal student loan and grant programs. Beginning in 2014, however, schools will be assessed using a three-year default rate. Schools with a three-year default rate of 30 percent or higher for three years in a row, or over 40 percent in a single year, would become ineligible for student loans and grants.

Policymakers adopted the three-year rate as a more accurate measure than the two-year rate, because borrowers can use deferment and forbearance options and thereby postpone default beyond two years even though they have inadequate means with which to repay their loans. In the past, the U.S. Department of Education has published three-year rates only for informational purposes. But the recently-released official rates will eventually be used to measure individual schools once three years of information is available. The three-year rate shows the percentage of students from the 2009 cohort who defaulted on their loans by the end of fiscal year 2011. These rates capture more defaults over a longer period of time, perhaps providing a better picture of defaults for a given institution.

A close examination of the three-year cohort default rates mostly confirms what confirms what many stakeholders already believe – the 302 institutions with high three-year default rates serve more disadvantaged students and these students rely on federal aid more than their counterparts at institutions with lower default rates (see table below).

But the data also reveal one surprising finding in particular. Institutions with three-year default rates at or over 30 percent have slightly higher graduation rates than those with lower default rates – 56.9 percent compared to 53.0 percent. Though graduation rates are usually an indicator of a high-performing institution, this could also mean that institutions with higher default rates have a lower threshold for graduation, their students graduate with credentials that are of insufficient value in the labor market, or both.

The pattern is even more pronounced at the 68 institutions with three-year default rates over 40 percent (which, starting in 2014, would earn them an immediate removal from federal aid eligibility). At these institutions, the average graduation rate is 62.5 percent, compared to 53.1 percent at institutions with lower default rates.

That is a troubling pattern indeed. If low-quality institutions continue to flood the market with graduates at a higher rate than higher-performing institutions, competition for a limited number of jobs will become even steeper among those graduates. This will most directly hurt the students from the low-performing institutions who likely have credentials that are less valuable in the market place, reinforcing the cycle of high default rates.

These findings should be a wake-up call for institutions with high default rates coupled with high graduation rates. They are doing their students a disservice by so readily handing out low-value degrees.


Low-Need States Benefited the Most from ARRA Spending

September 27, 2012

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided an unprecedented $100 billion in additional funding for education over fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011. It has been notoriously difficult to interpret how states used those funds, despite promises of “transparency” from the Obama Administration. Did the money go to support the states that needed the most help? According to a recent U.S. Department of Education report, no—on average states with high per pupil spending and high student achievement received the most.

The report examines distributions of ARRA funds per pupil at the state level, grouping them by various indicators of need such as student poverty, budget gaps, and percentages of students attending persistently low-achieving schools.  The authors find that 25 percent of states that had the highest per pupil spending received an average of $435 more per pupil than the 25 percent with the lowest spending. The trend is mostly explained by $4.4 billion in Race to the Top (RttT) grants which were awarded primarily to higher-spending states.

The 25 percent of states with the highest student poverty rates received the least ARRA funding per pupil, $1,358 compared to $1,372 on average. The states that received the most per pupil were actually the states with average poverty rates (between 12.9 and 20.4 percent). Those states received $1,419 per pupil on average. Similarly, states with the highest performing students (based on the percentage scoring proficient on National Assessment of Education Progress tests) also received more per pupil than states with lower-performing students. The high-performing states received $1,463 per pupil, while the low-performing states received $1,304.

However, the report’s findings suggest more ARRA funds found their way to states with big budget gaps. States with the largest budget shortfalls did receive more funding per pupil than those with smaller shortfalls – a surprising conclusion given that Congress did not target the funds to states with large funding gaps. The 25 percent of states with the highest funding gap received $1,431 per pupil, while those states with the smallest gaps received $1,288. Again, this difference is primarily attributable to Race to the Top funding – the states with the largest gaps received $109 per pupil in RttT, while the states with the smallest gaps received only $7 per pupil.

Overall, it is not be completely surprising that the ARRA funds did not target states with the highest need as measured by student achievement and spending. Much of the ARRA funds were distributed through existing federal funding formulas like Title I or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which take into account many other factors besides need like state size. The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the largest program in the ARRA, distributed funds according to population size. Instead, Race to the Top, a $4.4 billion competitive grant program, seems to drive most of the funding differences across states. This is likely because it was intended to benefit states that were willing to or already investing in their education systems and demonstrating positive results.

Still, interpret the Department’s conclusions with caution. In calculating per pupil expenditures, the authors had to exclude some ARRA funding that technically went to education programs. But more importantly, the figures include all State Fiscal Stabilization Funds allocated to each state, not only those spent on K-12 education. States were allowed to spend the funds on both K-12 and higher education, and on average 20 percent of the funds went to higher education. As a result, the numbers cited above and in the report actually overstate per pupil spending from ARRA, particularly in states that spent most of those funds on higher education, like Wyoming and Colorado.

In all, the report sheds some much-needed light on the distribution of ARRA funds to states (as well as school districts, though that is a whole other discussion). And it suggests that the various ARRA programs mostly did what they were intended to do – push out money to states as quickly as possible based on existing funding formulas and population. While the Department attempted to encourage states and districts to use these formula funds to support reform efforts, few did. Instead the overwhelming goal of keeping teachers in classrooms and students in seats dominated. Any hope of reform now rides completely on the backs of the competitive grant programs.

Romney Education Plan Would Face Significant Political Hurdles

September 14, 2012

Several months ago, the Romney campaign released a document titled “A Chance for Every Child” that outlined the candidate’s education platform. Buried in the document is a proposal to “voucherize” the two largest federal programs for K-12 education: Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) state grants. The proposal would allow eligible students to take that funding with them to the public or private school or district of their choice. While such student-based funding is gaining popularity, can a student really just show up at a school with federal vouchers in hand and demand to be educated? No. It’s not that simple.

For one, federal funds do not come close to covering the cost of that child’s education. To solve that roadblock, Romney’s plan is predicated on another, related concept – open enrollment. Open enrollment ideally gives students an opportunity to seek out the highest-quality educational opportunities, a worthy goal especially when targeted at low-income and high need students. The platform states that under a Romney administration, the U.S. Department of Education would ensure that every state has an open enrollment system.

Though the Romney proposal is short on details, existing open enrollment states can give us some sense of how it could work. While most states have open enrollment laws, which allow students to apply to attend school in another district, many of them are voluntary, allowing districts to opt not to participate. Others are open only to students at certain schools or at certain income levels. Assumedly, Romney’s plan would require states and districts to adopt open enrollment for all students, requiring districts to accept transfers.*

Such programs typically work like this: If both the resident (the student’s home district) and non-resident (the district the student wants to transfer to) approve a student’s transfer application, the state transfers a payment from the resident district to the non-resident district (usually a portion of the annual per pupil funding). The resident district usually gets to keep some portion of the per pupil funding for “fixed costs.” It is important to note that the per pupil amount typically includes both state and local funds.

But federal funds, particularly Title I funds, can’t easily be made portable because of how they are distributed. Currently, states distribute Title I funds they receive from the federal government to districts based on four formulas that account for Census estimates of both the proportion and number of students living in poverty. However, districts distribute those Title I funds to schools based on enrollment in the free and reduced price lunch program. Theoretically, these funds can be tied to specific students based on their family income levels. But, districts can opt to use Title I dollars for students only in certain grade levels. And schools with poverty rates over a certain level are able to use their Title I funds for “whole school” use, rather than targeting that spending to specific eligible students.

That means most of the federal dollars do not follow specific students but instead are pooled in areas where district or school leaders think they will have the greatest impact. This existing system is often inequitable and leaves many students – particularly high schoolers – at a disadvantage. But it also allows district and school leaders more flexibility in how they use the funds.

Under Romney’s plan states will likely have to distribute Title I funds directly to students based on their enrollment in free and reduced price lunch or some other indicator of poverty (like Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). This will take the district and school out of the equation, eliminating a district’s ability to target the funds to certain grade levels or create “whole school” Title I programs. The dollars could then truly follow the student.

This would involve significant structural changes to Title I, including likely rehashing the current funding formulas and redefining how schools can use the funds to serve specific students. That will be a serious challenge – no one likes to lose funding and under Romney’s proposal it would be inevitable.

And any sort of voucherized Title I or IDEA system would necessitate mandatory open enrollment to cover the remaining cost of educating transfer students.  This would require significant legislative action at the state level and heavy bureaucratic lifts in federal, state, and local government.

Romney gets extra points for thinking out of the box with this education proposal. It speaks to every parent’s desire to have more control over his or her child’s education and would certainly cause a stir among the education bureaucracy. But at the same time, it undermines local control of schools, a concept many conservatives hold dear. Not only would states be required to implement open enrollment systems and transfer funds among districts, but districts and schools could no longer target their Title I funds to the schools or grades of their choosing.

If candidate Romney becomes President Romney, we predict a long and tough road ahead for his education proposals, likely with resistance from both sides of the aisle.   

*Such systems often allow districts to reject a transfer in cases of extreme financial hardship – where a resident district would lose too much funding or a non-resident district would be unable to support the additional cost of educating a transferring student.

Sequestration Will Mean Significant Cuts for Needy School Districts

September 14, 2012

Last Friday, the Office of Management and Budget at the White House released a sequestration report, confirming the impact of the automatic, across-the-board funding cuts scheduled for January 2013. Sequestration resulted from the “supercommittee’s” failure to find $1.2 trillion in 10-year cuts to federal spending (or tax increases) last year. According to the report, the majority of Department of Education spending programs will face an 8.2 percent cut as a result of the sequester. Unless Congress and the President agree to turn off the sequester, school districts across the country will face some difficult budget decisions starting in January and continuing into the 2013-14 school year.

To get a better idea of what these cuts will mean for schools, Ed Money Watch used Census data on school districts’ total annual revenue and federal revenue for the 2009-10 school year to calculate the percent of each district’s revenue made up of federal funds, as well as how much each district stands to lose under a 8.2 percent cut. (We did a similar analysis recently looking at the impact of Congressman Ryan’ proposed 20 percent cut.)

It is important to note that not all cuts will happen at the same time. Specifically, cuts to Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act spending will not take effect until next school year because the programs are mostly forward funded (due to something called “advance appropriations”). Other programs, such as Impact Aid, will face immediate cuts in January 2013. School nutrition programs, however, are exempt from the sequester. Unfortunately, the Census data do not disaggregate by funding source, so it is not possible to include this exemption in our calculations.  

Unsurprisingly, the districts that rely the most on federal funds for their annual revenue will take the greatest hit due to a 8.2 percent cut as a proportion of their total revenue. For example, Shannon County School District in South Dakota relied on the federal government for 67.9 percent of its annual revenue in 2010. If that funding were to be cut by 8.2 percent, Shannon County would lose $1.5 million, or 5.6 percent of its $18.1 million in annual revenue. Shannon County serves over 1,100 students, 98 percent of whom participate in Free and Reduced Price Lunch and 99 percent of whom identify as American Indian.  The district receives nearly $5 million in Title I funding for disadvantaged students and over $8 million in Impact Aid funding to replace revenue lost from the lack of property taxes derived from Bureau of Indian Affairs land.

Similar stories can be told for numerous districts with high proportions of low-income, American Indian, English Language Learner, or other high-needs students.

But even districts that do not rely on federal funding for large portions of their annual revenue stand to lose significant funding. Forty-eight districts stand to lose more than $10 million should the 8.2 percent cut become a reality. These large districts include New York City Public Schools, which would lose about $168 million, Los Angeles Unified School District, which would lose $111 million, and Chicago Public Schools, which would lose $100 million.

But it also includes many lesser-known districts like Gwinnett County School District outside of Atlanta, GA, which would lose over $16 million, or Cypress-Fairbanks School Districts outside of Houston, TX, which would lose over $10.5 million. Though these figures represent less than 2 percent of each of these district’s budgets, finding savings to accommodate these cuts will surely be a challenge.

The 8.2 percent cut from the sequester will also have a dramatic impact on districts that serve particularly fragile communities like students with the most challenging special education needs or districts that have recently experienced natural disasters. For example, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which serves nearly 9,000 students with severe special needs, would lose nearly $37 million, 3.6 percent of its annual revenue. The Recovery School District in New Orleans would lose nearly $12 million, 4.0 percent of its revenue.

Sequestration is a blunt instrument that prevents Congress from targeting spending cuts to the programs that are best equipped to face such cuts. Limiting federal spending may be a worthy goal in this austere time, but the current method stands to hurt the school districts and students that need the extra funding support the most. This is not an argument for increasing federal spending, but rather an argument for ensuring that any decisions to cut such spending are done thoughtfully and with an eye towards equity.

To download these data for every school district in the country, click here. 

Paul Ryan Budget Proposal To Cut Federal Spending Could Pull Millions From Some School Districts | Huffington Post

September 12, 2012

As an example, the report’s author, Jennifer Cohen Kabaker, cites Arizona’s Sanders Unified School District -- 97 percent of whose students identify as American Indian. Just over $9 million of the district’s $15 million annual revenue comes from federal sources, so if Congress were to cut spending by 20 percent, Sanders Unified could lose as much as $1.8 million, or 12 percent of its annual revenue.

Original article

Ryan Proposed Budget Cuts Could Mean Millions Lost for Some Districts

September 5, 2012

Paul Ryan’s proposal to cut federal spending by 20 percent has been impossible to ignore – especially what that might mean for education programs. Federal spending currently makes up about 10 percent of annual spending for education, so a 20 percent cut to that spending would only translate to 2 percent of total spending, on average. But what about the impact on non-average school districts?  As it turns out, more than 1,500 districts rely on federal funds for 20 percent or more of their annual revenue, and those districts would take a big hit.

Last week, Ed Media Commons showcased data from the Federal Education Budget Project, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, to reveal that these cuts could mean much more for districts that rely more heavily on federal funds. Using Census data on school districts’ total annual revenue and federal revenue for the 2009-10 school year, we calculated the percent of each district’s revenue made up of federal funds, as well as how much each district stands to lose under a 20 percent cut.

Of the more than 1,500 districts that rely on federal funds for 20 percent or more of their annual revenue, seventy-seven would lose more than 10 percent of their annual revenue if Congress were to cut federal spending by 20 percent. Those districts tend to be smaller, with enrollments mostly between 100 and 2,000.

These districts’ reliance on federal revenue can mostly be explained by high proportions of American Indian students. Many districts receive funds under Impact Aid, a federal program that provides funds to school districts with high proportions of “federally impacted” students like American Indians. Because those districts do not benefit from property tax revenue from people living on Indian reservations, the federal government makes up for that lost revenue. For example, Sanders Unified School District in Arizona had an enrollment of 1,049 in 2010 and nearly 97 percent of those students identified as American Indian. Of that district’s approximately $15 million in annual revenue, just over $9 million comes from federal sources. If Congress were to cut spending by 20 percent, Sanders Unified could lose as much as $1.8 million, 12 percent of its annual revenue.

Many large districts would also be disproportionately affected by big cuts to federal education funding. Los Angeles Unified School District, Chicago Public Schools, and Miami-Dade School District, the second-, third-, and fourth-largest school districts in the country, each rely on federal funds for more than 16 percent of their annual revenue. Chicago receives nearly 24 percent, or $1.2 billion, of its annual $5.1 billion in total revenue from federal sources. That federal funding comes from several federal programs aimed at low-income students such as Title I (about $300 million) and Free and Reduced Price Meals (about $140 million), as well as special education (about $90 million). A 20 percent cut to federal funding would mean a loss of $244 million for Chicago.

Of course, some districts rely very little on the federal government for education funding. Over 2,100 districts get 5 percent or less of their annual revenues from federal sources. These districts also tend to be smaller – only 248 have enrollments over 5,000 – and tend to serve wealthier and less diverse populations. Cheshire School District in Connecticut, for example, had an enrollment of 4,950 in 2010 and an annual revenue of over $71 million, only 4.5 percent of which came from federal sources. The district has a student poverty rate of only 3.1 percent, very few English language learners, and is made up of nearly 87 percent white students. This means the district receives very little federal funding under programs like Title I or Free and Reduced Price Meals. If federal spending were cut by 20 percent, Cheshire would only lose $637,000 in revenue.

While a 20 percent cut would be devastating for many school districts, others would lose only the aforementioned 2 percent or even less. These austere times mean that cuts to federal spending are likely. We hope that Congress is able to target those cuts in such a way that protects the most vulnerable students that benefit directly from federal spending. While Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act special education spending are often the most discussed, it is important that programs like Impact Aid also factor heavily into negotiations. For many of these districts, such a cut could mean millions of dollars or a substantial portion of their annual revenue.

Click here to download these data for every school district in the nation. To view programmatic and demographic data, please visit febp.newamerica.net/k12.

Who's Funding Your District? Uncle Sam, More Than You Think | EdMedia Commons

August 30, 2012

More than 1,500 school systems depend on federal funding for more than 20 percent of their annual revenue based on 2010 data, according to calculations from Jennifer Cohen Kabaker, a senior policy analyst at the centrist New America Foundation think tank.

Original article

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