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
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,”
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
Guest blogger John Kirtley is the founder of two private equity firms in Tampa, FL. He is the chairman of Step Up For Students, a non-profit that administers the tax credit scholarship program and which now empowers the parents of nearly 40,000 low income Florida children who attend a private school of their choice, and of the Florida Federation for Children, a "527" political organization active in Florida legislative races. He is vice chair of the American Federation For Children, a national parental choice advocacy organization, and also a board member of the Florida Charter School Alliance and the Hillsborough County (Tampa) Education Foundation.
The most important governance question is: “Will low income and working class parents truly direct the taxpayer dollars used to educate their children?”
The definition of “public education” is changing rapidly, even if some don’t want it to. It used to mean giving taxpayer dollars solely to districts to operate all schools, where kids are assigned by zip code. The emerging definition, which I prefer, is using taxpayer dollars to educate children in the best way possible for each of them, using a variety of providers and delivery methods.
Parents with enough means already direct dollars—their own—to the best education providers for their kids. Parents with means move to neighborhoods with good public schools, or pay tuition for a private school. Increasingly, these parents combine
In a recent New York Times column about Steve Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, Joe Nocera, says
“[Y]ou simply cannot fix America’s schools by `scaling’ charter schools. It won’t work. Charters schools offer proof of the concept that great teaching is a huge difference-maker, but charters can only absorb a tiny fraction of the nation’s 50 million public schoolchildren. Real reform has to go beyond charters – and it has to include the unions. That’s what Brill figured out.”
Nocera makes the mistake of confusing pedagogy and governance.
Wrong. Like many education establishmentarians, Nocera makes the mistake of confusing pedagogy and governance. The former—e.g. great teaching—is a hard nut to crack and Nocera is right to suggest, as does Brill, that there perhaps aren’t enough great teachers in the pipeline (or in charter schools) to educate all 50 million public school students.
But there is certainly no such impediment to `scaling’ charters. Every public school in America could be a charter school tomorrow if policymakers would allow it. Would that “fix” America’s schools? Not necessarily. But it would help.
The other problem with the scaling argument is that it assumes that big is beautiful—that no matter how successful you are, if you can’t replicate your methods of success, then your model won’t be useful to the American public school system. That is true only if you assume a governance structure like the one we now have: a system managed from above. The monolith that we now call public education is dominated by special interests, including unions, that are
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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