Board's Eye View

Guest blogger Anne L. Bryant is the executive director of the National School Boards Association.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) held its 72nd Annual Conference in Boston, April 21-23, and more than 5,000 school board members and superintendents enjoyed inspiring remarks by CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien, Khan Academy Founder Sal Khan, and President of Harlem Children’s Zone Geoffrey Canada. We also held more than 200 sessions and workshops on topics such as the common core standards, new trends in educational technology, community engagement, and strategies to turn around low-performing schools.

But perhaps the biggest star was our 2011-12 president, Mary Broderick, of East Lyme, Conn. In her term as president, Broderick has passionately articulated the need to allow teachers and students the freedom to think, teach, and learn. She’s fascinated by motivation research and for years has studied the impact of federal and state policies, particularly the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), on classrooms.

She began writing a letter to President Barack Obama during her travels as NSBA president, soliciting comments and advice from her colleagues along the way. (Broderick not only saw the need for change as a veteran school board member, she also spends a great deal of time in schools and working with communities in her day jobs as an educational consultant with the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund...

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Guest blogger Jay P. Greene is the 21st Century Professor of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University.

Being against greater national control over education policy is not the same as being for local school districts. I appreciate Peter Meyer giving me the opportunity in this space to explain what I am for when it comes to school governance.

Fundamentally, I am for parental control over the education of their children, so I guess that I am for as little governance over education as we can manage. In my ideal world, which I’ve tried to explain and justify at greater length in this book chapter, parents would be given as much money as is minimally necessary to fulfill their obligation to educate their children and would choose the location, manner, and content of that education. Since education is just a subset of all of the activities in which parents engage to raise their children to be productive adults, we should defer to parents as much in how they educate their children as how they raise those children more generally. As long as parents do not neglect or abuse their children, the government should have as little role in education as is possible.

But we don’t live in my ideal world and I have no expectation that we will. All that I can hope for is...

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A venerable maxim of successful organizational management declares that an executive's authority should be commensurate with his or her responsibility. In plain English, if you are held to account for producing certain results, you need to be in charge of the essential means of production.

watch out for children on see-saws
There's a serious imbalance between a principal's accountability and authority.
 Photo by Kat.

In American public education today, however, that equation is sorely unbalanced. A school principal in 2012 is accountable for student achievement, for discipline, for curriculum and instruction, and for leading (and supervising) the staff team, not to mention attracting students, satisfying parents, and collaborating with innumerable other agencies and organizations.

Yet that same principal controls only a tiny part of his school's budget, has scant say over who teaches there, practically no authority when it comes to calendar or schedule, and minimal leverage over the curriculum itself. Instead of deploying all available school assets in ways that would do the most good for the most kids, the principal is required to follow dozens or hundreds of rules, program requirements, spending procedures, discipline codes, contract clauses, and regulations emanating from at least three levels of government—none of which strives to coordinate with any of the others.

In short, we give our school heads the responsibility of CEO's but the...

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Guest blogger David Harris is the founder and chief executive officer of The Mind Trust, a nonprofit that is driving innovative K-12 education reform in Indianapolis. Under his leadership, The Mind Trust recruits proven programs to Indianapolis, incubates life-changing schools and initiatives, and develops bold plans for systemic change. Since its launch in 2006, The Mind Trust has impacted 37,500 students through its work and raised twenty-seven million dollars.

The Mind Trust's goal is to ensure every child in Indianapolis has the opportunity to receive an excellent education. We believe that dramatically increasing the number of high-quality schools in our city is critical to this mission.

The need for more high-quality public schools in Indianapolis is sizable. Less than half of students in the city’s largest district, Indianapolis Public Schools, meet basic state standards on both math and English portions of Indiana’s standardized test. Less than two-thirds graduate on time.

The need for more high-quality public schools in Indianapolis is sizable.

The charter schools authorized by the Indianapolis mayor’s office have made significant strides at boosting student outcomes. On average last year, those charter schools exceeded the Indianapolis Public Schools pass rates in both math and English on the state’s standardized test by 13 percentage points.

But the charter-school supply is not adequate to meet the demand for the schools. Nearly 1,000 students are left on waiting lists for charter schools in Indianapolis each year. A handful...

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A teacher friend of mine showed me the new issue of the American Educator, the American Federation of Teachers publication that bills itself as “a quarterly journal of education research and ideas.” He wanted me to read the cover story, called “Lead the Way: the Case for Fully Guided Instruction.” The research, by Richard Clark, Paul Kirschner, and John Sweller, has been around for a while, but that’s the astounding thing: not only has their research been around, but they argue, quite persuasively, that “[d]ecades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance.”

As a school board member I confess to deep and continuous agita over the the system’s inability to do the right thing.

I will not pretend to be an expert on teaching, but as a school board member I confess to deep and continuous agita over the system’s inability to do the right thing; rather, its amazing ability to deny reality, which is the prime directive for institutional entropy. (It is not just the reality of good research that is ignored, it’s the reality of crumbling schools and generations of untaught children.) I had a veteran teacher pull me aside one day and almost shout, “They keep giving new names to the same tired and unworkable ideas. Why don’t they just let me teach!”

Since reading E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy, celebrating its 25th year in print, I have watched American educators do...

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Passing a set of historic reform bills last week, the Louisiana legislature handed Gov. Bobby Jindal and his new education chief, John White, the keys to reform city. By a healthy majority in both houses, it passed legislation, writes Bill Barrow of the Times-Picayune, which will

Louisiana State Capitol
The Lousiana legislature passed a set of historic reform bills last week.
 Photo by Jim Bowen.
…curtail teacher tenure protection, tie instructors' compensation and superintendents' job security to student performance; shift hiring and firing power from school boards to superintendents; create new paths to open charter schools; and establish a statewide program that uses the public-school financing formula to pay private-school tuition for certain low-income students.

It was anything but a cakewalk for the Jindal reform package, as teachers descended on the Capitol to fight the bills and Democrats charged the second-term Republican governor with strong-arm tactics reminiscent of former political tough guys Huey Long and Edwin Edwards. “I make no apologies for having a sense of urgency,” said Jindal. “I was elected to help lead our state. I was not elected just to hold an office."

Even Diane Ravitch made a trip to Louisiana to cheer-lead the anti-reform troops. As she recounts on her Bridging Differences blog, headlined “Bobby Jindal v. Public Education,” the Louisiana governor is…

….in...
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One might fairly wonder why the Council on Foreign Relations, of all outfits, would wade into school reform, but in fact the task force that CFR convened on this topic has made a valuable contribution.

We’re accustomed to reformers arguing that America’s international economic competitiveness hinges on a better-educated workforce; we’re used to parallel (and equally justified) assertions that our civic future and cultural vitality depend on kids learning a great deal more in school. What the CFR team has done is remind us that revitalizing our education system is also essential for the defense of the nation itself. In their words, “America’s failure to educate is affecting its national security….In the defense and aerospace industries, many executives fear this problem [dearth of adequately skilled people] will accelerate in the coming decade….Most young people do not qualify for military service….The U.S. State Department and intelligence agencies are facing critical language shortfalls in areas of strategic interest….”

They’re not exactly saying that nuclear warheads will rain onto our population centers the day after tomorrow unless our schools become more effective but they are reminding us that the intersection of national wellbeing and education has many dimensions. One may usefully recall the post-Sputnik angst that led to the National Defense Education Act and a flurry of other efforts to strengthen the U.S. education system as well as the stirring and alarmist rhetoric of A Nation at Risk—now almost three decades...

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In what might be the quote of the day (if not year), Geoffrey Canada tells Anna Phillips of the New York Times that,

Folks are genuinely looking for opportunities to make peace and not war….  And I think that’s terrific. But someone has to make war.
A triumvirate of kumbaya they are not.

Who better to lead the troops than Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and Eva Moskowitz, three of the most aggressive education reformers of the last decade, or, if you prefer, as Phillips has it, “some of the most well-known and polarizing figures in public education.”

A triumvirate of kumbaya they are not.

And what they have now done is form a group that intends to raise $10 million annually for the next five years to lobby the New York State legislature to protect the reform initiatives launched by Klein and his mayoral boss Michael Bloomberg in New York City, promote reform throughout the state, and, as Phillips writes,

…neutralize the might of the teachers’ unions, whose money, endorsements and get-out-the-vote efforts have swung many close elections.

Bloomberg’s third (and this time final) term expires at the end of next year. Says Phillips,

[T]he campaign is beginning while advocates of reform have an ally in the mayor. But their eyes are focused on 2014, when a new mayor—most likely one who is more sympathetic to the teachers’ union than Mr. Bloomberg has been—enters office.

In fact, the law to renew mayoral...

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Mark Anderson is a special education teacher in the Bronx. He is originally from California and still trying to convince himself that skyscrapers are equivalent to mountains. Follow Mark on Twitter @mandercorn or on his blog Schools as Ecosystems.

From where I sit—as a special education teacher in East Tremont in the Bronx—it looks to me like the same issues that plague my public school and district plague the school system at large.

It's rare that content knowledge, pedagogical wisdom, or other experiential knowledge is transferred between classrooms, let alone between schools or between districts. It does happen, when those few teachers that establish meaningful relationships with one another talk about a lesson, or ask to borrow something, or ask for help when they are struggling with a concept. But it doesn’t happen often enough.

One would think that this sort of meaningful transfer of information would occur as a result of professional development or prep period time, but professional development largely seems to stand for "paying some institution lots of money so it can come and tell us how to teach." It's rare that anything that is developed through those sessions comes directly from the teachers themselves, and it's rarer still that anything is implemented in an ongoing manner as a result of that PD.

The 20-30 minutes of actual prep period time, after students have been shuttled down stairs and into another classroom and you've walked...

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Guest blogger John White is Louisiana superintendent of education. This post originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Baton Rouge Advocate.

The Advocate has recently published several letters to the editor on public education. I have to say as an educator, I'm disappointed with the prevailing tone and content of those letters opposing change.

Here are some passages that illustrate a common thread:

"We, the public school teachers of East Baton Rouge schools, can't educate children who don't want to be educated. We can't educate children whose parents don't care and are not involved."

"…the state is going to require that very poor students take the ACT… The weaker of these students are not college-bound students who have no intention to attend college, yet he has to be compared and compete."

And one writer simply stated, "Poverty is a significant factor affecting academic scores," leaving it at that—as if that absolves us of any responsibility to educate the child.

I'm so disappointed in these comments for two reasons. First, they betray a mindset that forsakes the American dream. They show a sad belief among some that poverty is destiny in America, defying our core value that any child, no matter race, class, or creed, can be the adult he or she dreams of being. Yes, poverty matters. Yes, it impacts learning. And that fact should only embolden us to do everything we can to break the cycle of poverty so another generation of children does not...

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