Board's Eye View

Today’s post is a bit of a Board’s Eye View swan song, as I am embarking on two new projects that take me off “the board” as they widen my “view” considerably. I will be helping David Steiner, dean of education at Hunter College and former New York State commissioner of education, establish a new Institute for Education Policy at City University of New York. We hope to make the Institute an important forum for issues facing K-20 urban education. I will also be helping Ann Tisch, founder and chair of The Young Women’s Leadership Network, create a new and innovative curriculum for urban high school students. This too will be an exciting project, designed to bring essential twenty-first-century skills to our urban students.

What I hope to bring to both endeavors are some of the insights gleaned while serving on my small public district’s board of education and writing for the last twenty-five months (this is my 400th blog post for Fordham, but who’s counting?) about school governance...

The lessons of school board service do not quickly dissipate. My feelings about BOE service are similar to those of the new Bridging Differences interlocutory Pedro Noguera (taking Diane Ravitch’s place). Known for his education scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard, and now New York University, Noguera spent four years on the Berkeley school board. He didn’t have a good time. California was “in the midst of yet another fiscal crisis,” he reports, and he and his colleagues...

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A knockout story in The Atlantic by education journalist Peg Tyre describes the wonderful turnaround of a Staten Island high school that the turnarounders attribute to a writing program. Yes, that’s right, writing.

This comes at a time when there is some debate about the Common Core English language arts standards (see here and here, as well as The Atlantic profile of David Coleman, and just about anything our Common Core guru Kathleen Porter-Magee has written) and the first contracts awarded by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (known, mercifully, as PARCC) to write the ELA tests for the Common Core.

Tyre, who is the author of The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve and The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents & Educators Must Do, has a great grasp of these issues and tells us that the writing program increased pass rates for the English Regents exam from 67 percent to 89 percent and global history from 64 to 75 in just two years. It is the latter bump that prompted a friend of mine to send the story to E.D. Hirsch, which prompted Hirsch to offer some intriguing insights about Tyre’s story (see below).

One of the keys to New Dorp’s success with “writing revolution,” a program inspired by one developed by Judith Hochman when she ran a private...

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It may not be a coincidence that the most valuable modern painting is Edvard Munch’s The Scream and that new research suggests that the most effective merit-pay system is the threat of—Aaaaaah!!!—no pay.

edvard munch - the scream 1893
What does The Scream have in common with merit pay?
Photo by Ian Burt.

Jay Greene takes on the issue in a wonderfully sassy post this morning headlined “In Chicago—Phony Merit Pay is Dead, Long Live True Merit Pay.” He recognizes that the ink isn’t dry on the deal hammered out between the Chicago Public Schools and the striking Chicago Teachers Union, but he suggests that it was a blessing (in disguise?) that CPS gave up on its attempt at “differentiated compensation” but retained the right to open new charter schools. As Greene argues, the former is “phony” merit pay and the latter is “true” merit pay:

In phony merit pay—the kind that hardly exists in any industry—there is a mechanistic calculation of performance that determines the size of a small bonus that is provided in addition to a base salary that is essentially guaranteed regardless of performance. You can stink and still keep your job and pay. The worst that can happen is you miss out on some or all of a...
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Hog butcher for the world,
Tool maker, stacker of wheat,
Player with railroads and the nation's freight handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the big shoulders.
           —Carl Sandburg, Chicago, 1916.

I can’t get enough of the Chicago teachers’ union strike. Leave it to the Windy City to provide educators and education pundits with drama worthy of a reality TV series: interesting protagonists, things to fight over, edge-of-your-seat drama.

Leave it to the Windy City to provide educators and education pundits with drama worthy of a reality TV series.

We thought it would be over in time to open schools this morning. But a 3 a.m. email blast from Whitney Tilson had the bad news:

In an astonishing development, the Chicago Teachers Union today voted to continue its strike until at least the middle of this coming week.

Tilson said his “first thought” was sympathy for the parents and children. But his second thought? 

…that the outrageous, selfish, greedy behavior by the union is an absolute godsend to we reformers. Parents in Chicago - and everyone else who's paying attention across the country - are so mad that they can't see straight - and it's now 100% directed at the union. This will benefit us in Chicago and nationally for years to come.

Will it?

By coincidence, while I was reading Tilson’s...

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Update: The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract which would allow classes to resume on Monday, the Chicago Tribune reports.

It’s a testament to how peaceful labor relations have been in our schools that the Chicago Teachers Union strike has been front-page and prime-time news since Monday. A national Rorschach test on education: Everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Mother Jones weighed in. Like the guillotine, the strike focused the national mind.

The strike could be over soon—and many commentators predicted as much—but no matter when it ends, it offers us a chance to take the nation’s pulse. And the following is a quick roundup of opinion from a few of our notable educators, pundits, and editorial writers; much of it quite good.

First stop, of course, should be the Flypaper’s comprehensive list of stories, put together by a crackerjack team—Joe Portnoy, Pamela Tatz, and Ty Eberhardt. (As a former newsdesk guy, I can feel their pain—worth it, though, as the site proves.) And, of course, one of the best leads comes from our own Mike Petrilli:

I had a reporter ask me this week if I could remember a teachers’ strike as “confusing” as the one in Chicago; it was so hard, she explained, even to know over which issues the teachers were striking.
That’s not an accident. The local and national unions surely realized, after an onslaught of negative coverage, that...
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Tom English

Guest blogger Tom English is husband of a teacher, father of two, sacristan, and freelance writer. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

In a September 5, 2012, issue of the Portland [Oregon] Tribune an article titled “Schools beat the drum for equity” is nominally about equity in education but could just as easily be a story about the racial inequities of peanut-butter sandwiches and noontime drum classes for black and Latino boys.

Peanut-butter sandwiches are racist, the story explains, because not all cultures have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their food pyramid; specifically, the Somali and Hispanic cultures. The noontime drum classes are racist because they are targeted to black and Latino boys even though the principal says no one has been turned away, irate parents’ comments to the contrary.

The principal of Harvey Scott K-8 School in Portland is the real focus of the article. Verenice Guiterrez is working hard to make sure that there is equity in education in her school and to improve education for students of color. She is doing so by following the guidelines of the Portland Public Schools, specifically of a program designed by consultant Glenn Singleton to eliminate racial educational disparity in schools.

How is this change going to happen? Teachers are spending a great deal of time attending training and meetings to become proficient in Courageous Conversations and Educational Equity. These sessions are designed to make teachers aware of racial inequities and the pervasive whiteness in the schools. This training...

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The teachers say they want more job protection and more money. The school-board president said there’s “only so much money.” The mayor says the teachers should have stayed at the bargaining table. And parents of Chicago public school students are left holding the bag. After weeks of negotiations, last night the Chicago Teachers Union called it quits, its president declaring, according to the Chicago Tribune, "No CTU members will be inside of our schools Monday."

There will be tremendous pressure to resolve this labor dispute quickly.

Some 140 of the district’s schools will remain open from 8:30 to 12:30, but without any of their 25,000 teachers, according to a CPS contingency plan. That leaves more than 500 schools empty in the nation’s third-largest school district (serving over 400,000 students).

According to the Tribune,

  • CPS had offered a 16 percent salary increase over four years, but the CTU said it wanted more health care benefits and bigger first-year increase to compensate for longer school days.
  • With rumors that CPS might close 100 schools, the CTU wanted guarantees that laid-off teachers would be recalled.
  • There was disagreement over the role of student performance in teacher evaluations.

These are all very familiar issues in public education. But teacher strikes have become rare. (See Rick Hess and Marty West’s 2006 Ed Next story.) Strikes are a risky business, especially in an era when teacher unions have been on the defensive, if not on the ropes, and parents now...

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We Don’t Need No Education” by Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, in yesterday’s New York Times is a succinct, and mostly compelling, argument for giving all our children a solid liberal arts education beyond high school.

Shouldn’t every American citizen have a right to the best education we can deliver?

Though I’m not sure that taking out after the “instrumentalist rhetoric” of recent reports like that of the Council on Foreign Relations (U.S. Education Reform and National Security) is appropriate, Roth is right to question those who wonder “why people destined for low-paying jobs should bother to pursue their education beyond high school, much less study philosophy, literature and history.” I have written about the subject before (here, here, and here) because, as Roth argues, it’s important. It’s an education policy issue that, played out in the trenches, is very much a social justice issue, if not a moral one—and, I would argue, very much a national security issue. This was the point of my post on Earl Shorris’s Roberto Clemente program for the poor; that the poor deserve a good education too. As Shorris wrote:

If the multigenerational poor are to make the leap out of poverty, it will require a new kind of thinking—reflection…. And that is a beginning. [The study of the humanities is] in itself a redistribution of wealth.

Shorris quotes the great University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins: “The best education for the best is the...

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A couple of reports last week reanimated the debate about what to do with Catholic schools, which have been hemorrhaging students for the last couple of decades. The new challenge—“one of their most complex… yet,” writes Sean Cavanagh in Education Week—is charter schools. One, by former RAND economist Richard Buddin, was published by the Cato Institute; the other, by Abraham Lackman, a scholar-in-residence at the Albany Law School, in Albany, New York, is not out yet, but was summarized by Cavanagh in the Ed Week story. Writes Cavanagh,

Many charter schools tout attributes similar to those offered by the church's schools, such as disciplined environments, an emphasis on personal responsibility and character development, and distinctive instructional and curricular approaches.

And Buddin, whose report is more broadly aimed at measuring the impact of charters on all private schools, says,

[C]harter schools are pulling large numbers of students from the private education market and present a potentially dev­astating impact on the private education market, as well as a serious increase in the financial burden on taxpayers.

As both Adam Emerson and Kathleen Porter-Magee have already pointed out, Catholic schools were in decline long before charters came on the scene. Between 1960, when Catholics educated one out of every eight American school-age children (5.2 million) and 1990, when charter schools first came on the scene, 30 percent of the 13,000 Catholic schools in the U.S. closed (with enrollment plummeting to 2.5 million). In fact, since the pace...

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Perhaps it was coincidence, but New York City seems to have gotten the message of the Civil Rights Project (CRP) about discipline and has revised its student code of conduct to help keep kids in school. According to Al Baker in the New York Times students

can no longer be suspended for one-time, low-level infractions, and the youngest pupils can be suspended only for 5 days for midlevel offenses, down from 10, according to new disciplinary rules posted by the Education Department this week.

This is great news, but try to find that in the code of conduct, officially titled, “Citywide Standards of Intervention and Discipline Measures: The Discipline Code and Bill of Student Rightsand Responsibilities, K-12,” which is an eye-popping twenty-nine pages of small print and includes sections on “Promoting Positive Student Behavior,” “Progressive Discipline,” “Restorative Approaches,” and “Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.”

These types of documents, mind-numbing in their detail, tend to be self-defeating.

I must admit to being old school and focusing on the section called “Prohibited Weapons.” Were there some weapons that weren’t prohibited? Alas, no—the list is as comprehensive an itemization of mayhem as you can find, featuring air guns, spring guns (“or other instrument or weapon in which the propelling force is a spring or air, and any weapon in which any loaded or blank cartridge may be used”), daggers, stilettos, dirks, razors, both sling shots and slung shots, kung fu stars, nunchucks and shirkens—and, of course, your garden variety...

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