Contracts for Excellence (C4E), the centerpiece of former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s reform agenda for New York state schools in 2007, “could now more accurately stand for Commitments for Expenditures” because of the program’s emphasis on educational inputs over educational outcomes, says a Policy Briefing issued today by the Empire Center for Public Policy.

“Unfortunately, C4E has been seriously hobbled by flaws in its assumptions about the mechanisms of reform, by misguided beliefs about ‘what works’ in achieving excellence, and by a compressed timeline for adoption and implementation,” the briefing paper says. The paper was written by Peter B. Meyer, contributing editor of Education Next, a journal of the Hoover Institution, and a member of the Board of Education in Hudson.

“Spitzer’s ‘contracts’ have ended up looking more like a typical government grants program, draped with the jargon of reform,” Meyers writes. “Governor David Paterson and state lawmakers urgently need to revisit C4E and restore its greatly weakened accountability component—the link between money and achievement outcomes.”

The Policy Briefing says program deficiencies include a lack of personal accountability for school officials and a restrictive a menu of approved programs on which districts can spend C4E funds. Meyers also faults the program’s heavy focus on class-size reduction, noting that its cost-effectiveness has been questioned by educational researchers. There are 17 fewer C4E districts this year than there were last year, 20 came off the list and 3 new districts were added, which should help SED monitor the program more effectively, but will not change C4E’s fundamental failings.

The report recommends:

  • Creating real contracts, including terms that address both qualifying to receive funding and consequences should performance target not be met.
  • Allowing schools to use a variety of proven methods for improvement in lieu of the current system with a restricting “menu of options.”
  • Requiring more specific performance targets based on measurable student outcomes.
  • Expanding an improved C4E model as a way of holding more schools accountable for results.

The Empire Center is a non-partisan, independent think tank. A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

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