Board's Eye View

Okay, everyone hold hands.? Now, repeat after me:

We Will? Love -? Each Other -- And ?Educate ? All ?Kids!? ?

Or, try this: ?

You two shake hands, and don't let me catch you fighting again!?

That's a quick glimpse of schools, now and then ? and school governance, now and then.? Then, it was desks lined up (I?once visited a 19th century?Brooklyn ?school -- still in use -- where you could see the plugged holes from the days when desks were nailed to the floor); now, it's classrooms with pillows and rugs and a jumble of round tables. ??Then, it was ?top down? management, with principals ruling with rulers; now, principals spend much of their day parsing language of Codes of Conduct and labor contracts and writing up referrals and evaluations that can withstand a constititutional challenge.?

These caricatures of American public education governance are fleshed out admirably in Sam Dillon's NYT report this morning on a unique Denver conclave to bring education labor and management leaders together.? It?is being?convened by America's?Principal, Arne Duncan, who continues to work the education reform room with a stick in one hand and carrot in the other.? (I've heard he's teaming up with Doug Lemov on a new book:? Rule like a Champion!? 49 Techniques to Put Educators on the Path to Excellence. Just kidding.)

Let's hope that the two-day confab in the mile-high city is aided by the thin...

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Rarely do I come home from a school board meeting without wanting to scream, ?Call in the National Guard!??

To change metaphors, I could spin the globe, eyes closed, and put my finger just about anywhere on our little school district map to find what to my eyes looks like a train wreck and to others, based on the reactions,?the regular delivery van.?

Last night, our board received a ?hand carry? sheet titled, ?2011-12 Budget Development Information.?? (A ?hand carry? is always bad news; by definition, it is what the administration wants to spring on the board, at the public meeting, so it has no time to review it or prepare.)? Our tiny New York state district ? 2,000 kids ? faces a budget gap, according to the sheet, of $3,688,033 and a choice ? this is only preliminary, mind you -- between raising local property taxes 14.9% and laying off 32 teachers (16% of the total faculty) or raising taxes 3.9% and shedding 71 teachers (35%).? If it sounds Hobbesian, it's meant to.?

Sure, the district is overburdened with too many overpaid administrators and too many underpaid aides, too many uncoordinated programs, too many bad teachers, too many special ed kids, no curriculum -- but chopping-block budget numbers are always limited to teachers so that?parents will start conjuring up images of classrooms of 50 and 60 students.? Oh horror!

The real horror, however, was on a one-page sheet ? this was not on the agenda...

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The Hechinger Report and the Education Writers Association have teamed up with Michele McNeil, Education Week's federal policy editor, to produce a comprehensive report on the impact of the gargantuan education stimulus program from two years ago ? the largest one-time investment ever ? and found: ?not so much. ?

Reporters from 36 news outlets in 27 states spent nearly three months examining the impact thus far of this historic influx of cash. Interviewing scores of students, teachers, researchers and education officials at all levels of government, participating reporters set out to determine how the nation's schools are actually spending the money and whether the changes it sparks are likely to last. They found that the stimulus package's long-term impact on public education is far from certain. Indeed, many of the resulting policy changes are already endangered by political squabbles and the massive budget shortfalls still facing recession-battered state and local governments.

Though there are a few bright spots in the report, the overall message is that our public school systems, burdened by bureaucracy, mandates, strings, labor contracts, and indecision, have a?tough time making financial decisions that improve student achievement. It's not exactly pouring good money after bad, but it's clear that most educators haven't read Stretching The School Dollar. ?And now that the money is gone ? see what's happening in Texas ? only the smart ones will survive.? Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin.

?--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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Though I have never been a big fan of our obsession with race and poverty as? useful?tools for improving academic achievement ? what starts as a sociological construct (thank you, James Coleman), quickly becomes a general principal, which, by the time you get to the classroom trenches has become a horribly self-fulfilling and deterministic pedagogy ? Michael Winerip's thoughtful profile of Ronald Ferguson in today's New York Times offers some hope that we can start focusing on what counts: what you know and when you know it.?

Ferguson, the deeply respected Harvard academic, begins to get at the root of the problem by finding, as Winerip explains it, that half of the achievement gap can be explained by the fact?that ?black parents on average are not as academically oriented in raising their children as whites.??

"On average"?? I'm no statistician, but my unscientific observations suggest that?researchers seem to turn a blind eye to apples and oranges when it comes to race. By citing the proverbial ?wealthy suburb? data ? ?40 percent of blacks owned 100 or more books, compared with 80 percent of whites? writes Winerip ? to prove the achievement gap, our academics continue, in the process,?to reinforce the racial stereotype.?

But at least book ownership begins to get at the source of the problem: hey, 'bro, content counts.? I could walk you through plenty of? households in my town -- as racially and economically as mixed as America itself -- where white parents are...

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As Alyson Klein of Ed Week reported yesterday, the House GOP offered a ?slice and dice? funding bill on Friday night that cuts federal education funding ?far below current levels and far below what President Barack Obama wanted in his never-enacted fiscal year 2011 budget request.?? ?Nearly $5 billion would be cut from DOE's 2010 $63.7 billion budget, reports Klein, if the Republicans have their way.? ?

Title I money would be cut by $693.5 million, special education by $557 million, and Head Start by a cool $1 billion.? The GOP rejected Obama's request for another $1.3 billion for Race to the Top ? and there's ?no money? for the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program.?

The list of specific cuts can be scary ? Even Start ($66m), Striving Readers ($250m). Literacy Through Libraries ($19m), Civic Education ($35m), New Leaders for New Schools ($5m), Teach for America ($18m), and 21st Century Community Learning Centers ($100m).

Though this is a first shot over the budgeting bow, as Klein points out, the proposal is for a fiscal year that started last October ("never enacted") ?-- another reason for stocking up on the survival gear in the basement ?-- or applying for another credit card.

Stay tuned to Fordham; this is the time for reform realism.

?--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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In fact, as the cover story in New York magazine begins, ?Cathie Black is lost in Queens?. Usually when Black goes east, she's headed to her $4 million house in Southampton,? not the Coney Island elementary school where the new Gotham schools chief was supposed to be going.????

It goes without saying that the chancellorship of New York City schools is -- sui generis. ?Nothin' quite like it. ?Over a million kids. Eighty thousand teachers.? Hundreds of buildings.? A budget of over $20 billion a year.? Staggering numbers.? You might as well be running a small country ? for small people! Worse, there are four major TV networks, four major newspaper dailies, and dozens of Internet denizens ? all looking over your shoulder, tracking every cough or sneeze, trolling for news!? In week three, her comment to a group of parents worried about school crowding ? ?Could we just have some birth control for a while?? ? earned headlines. ?The Times already has a page devoted to Black stories and profiles.

Running New York City's schools is not so much a job as a penance. ?(I didn't see Governor Andrew Cuomo (who makes $179,000), while castigating the state's school superintendents for their exorbitant salaries, offer to trade places with Gotham's school's chancellor, even though she makes $250,000. In fact, Black, as the New York story points out, is taking a considerable pay cut from what she was used to in the corporate CEO world.)...

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Alyson Klein at K-12 Politics (Education Week) is reporting what?may not be too surprising: that conservatives on the Hill don't much care for increased federal education spending.? But it's the setup to the Cato Institute's always understated case against federal meddling that is priceless:

Just in case the message hasn't gotten through, school districts should know that the new Republicans in Congress really don't think that more money equals better student outcomes. The most popular item at the hearing today? A chart by the Cato Institute's Andrew Coulson essentially saying that the federal government has spent $2 trillion over the past half century, with nothing to show for it in terms of student results.

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon we'll be talking real money.

As Mike has emphasized (see the podcast here?or with Chris' Treat the Disease post earlier today) the current fiscal challenges facing school districts will not solve any of our education problems unless we take advantage of the crisis to weed the garden of costly, nutrient-sapping ?non-educational practices like single-salary schedules and tenure.?

?There were questions on issues like teacher retention, and even whether school districts can save money and boost student achievement by cutting back transportation costs and making more parents drive their kids to school,? reports Klein about House Education committee hearing.? But, "the big, overall consensus?

The feds need to set high goals and then get out of the way and let states and districts

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Last year at this time I was unveiling my Share the Pain plan (I liked the coincidence that STP is a famous fuel additive, ?with the racer's edge"), which included a staff salary freeze and cutting out busing for anyone who lived within a half mile of school.? Those two items alone would have saved nearly a million dollars and the jobs of a couple dozen teachers.? Alas, unlike the racer's edge, my STP went nowhere and a lot of teachers and other staff went looking for work.

This year, I'm mainly watching as the crowd gathers at the cliff's edge.? I did, however, pass on Stretching the School Dollar to my board colleagues and do also share suggestions that come my way, including this wonderful stream-of-conscious Blackberry email from a veteran elementary school teacher: ?

Ok, well, here are some thoughts.?

Co-integrated classrooms are not working.? We need more self-contained special education classes.? Instead of having two teachers in a classroom.? Have one.? Extra Content classes in [the school] are horrible and a waste of time and not working.??Have one special area teacher to one class for even one period a day- it would be better.? Give us more time in the class!? More teaching time....?? As for our building... we have four counselors that really don't do a hell of a lot.? Cut them, and make the ones work.? Or, have them?act as behavior person.. one period a day.. so we don't need to spend the

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Liam's post yesterday about Malcolm Gladwell's critique of U.S. News & World Report's college rankings ? ?one wonders,? wondered Liam, ?why the same education-policy types [who don't like the college rankings] can be so obtuse when it comes to identifying the just-as-glaring weaknesses in other sorts of education-related rankings and comparisons? ? was propitious.???

According to Trip Gabriel* ?in today's New York Times, the one-time third leg of the weekly news magazine industry (after Time and Newsweek) plans to take on schools of education ? with underwriting support from the likes of the Carnegie Corporation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.?

Already under fire from just about every quarter, the nation's teacher training schools are not happy about U.S. News piling on.

Sharon Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, told the Times that ?We have serious skepticism that their methodology will produce enough evidence to support the inferences they will make? and advised her Association's 800 member schools not to cooperate.?

Kate Walsh, head of the National Council on Teacher Quality, on whose board Checker Finn sits, calls the methodology complaint a red-herring. ?What they want us to do is hold off until a perfect assessment is in place,? she tells the Times.

The accountability movement marches on. And I hope kids are paying attention to the grading protests from their teachers' teachers.?

?--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

_________________

*Not Sam...

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In?their continuing drive to ratchet up learning standards, New York State's education leaders?are now sounding the alarm?about high school diplomas. According to a new study, done for NY's State Ed department, fewer than half the kids in the state holding a diploma are ready for college. ?In New York City, 23 percent of graduates (remember 40 percent don't even get that far) are college ready; in Rochester, it's just 5 percent.? Startling numbers.

?Some ethnic and racial groups fared worse than others,? says Barbara Martinez in the Wall Street Journal, ??While statewide the published graduation rate among black students is 62%, only 15% are considered college- and career-ready. In Syracuse, only 1% of Hispanic students graduated from high school at college- and career-ready level.?

This is what we get nearly three decades after being told our nation was ?at risk? because of its mediocre public education system??

Reports?Sharon Otterman* ?in the New York Times,

State and city education officials have known for years that graduating from a public high school does not indicate that a student is ready for college, and have been slowly moving to raise standards. But the political will to acknowledge openly the chasm between graduation requirements and college or job needs is new?.

?Sound familiar?

Last October, Otterman, writing about the state's new efforts to toughen up its grade 3?8 tests, reported?that

[E]vidence had been mounting for some time that the state's tests, which have formed the basis

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