We were about half-way through our four-hour school board ?Governance Team Retreat? when I saw an opening.? ?The facilitator, sent to us by the New York State School Boards Association (for a nice fee), had handed out a 27-page document that covered the standard ?roles and responsibilities? of...
- school board members (four major roles: representative, leader, steward, advocate),
- school boards (?four macro responsibilities: ?set the district's direction?, ensure alignment of strategies, resources, policies, programs, and processes with district goals, assess and account for progress?, continuously improve the district,?),
- board president (?leader of leaders,? ?presider,? ?communicator?)
- superintendent (advisor, executive, leader, manager, advocate, communicator)
.... but in the nitty gritty world where we lived, as the governance discussion proceeded, the big issues were ?chain of command,? "being part of the team," "being negative," and one of the major themes of that first hour and a half was, as our facilitator reminded us, the board's role as ?overseer, not micromanager.? The board "should not second-guess? the administration's recommendations ?except in extreme circumstances,? we were told. It should ?trust the professionals.?
That was my opening. ?That's exactly what we've been doing for ten years,? I blurted, "trusting the professionals. We were 83rd out of 86 districts in the region ten years ago and we are 83 out of 86 today
As the author of a generally upbeat 2008 report for Education Next on Michael Bloomberg and his takeover of New York City's schools in 2002, I felt a bit sad reading this morning's New York Times poll report showing that New Yorkers are now ?broadly dissatisfied? with their school system and that ?most say the city's school system has stagnated or declined since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of it nine years ago.? ?Ouch.? I recalled the comment of veteran Gotham educator Sy Fliegel, who once told me, ?I met with the mayor early on and I said to him, ?You want to take over the city's schools? And be held accountable for how they do? Are you crazy?'?
It's a tough town.
According to the Times poll only 34 percent of New Yorkers approve of Bloomberg's performance as the education mayor. ?And Blacks and Hispanics, whose children make up 70 percent of the enrollment in the city's public schools, says the Times, ?expressed the most dissatisfaction, with 64 percent of blacks and 57 percent of Hispanics saying they are generally not satisfied, compared with 50 percent of whites.?
Though reporters Sharon Otterman and Allison Kopicki concede that ?dissatisfaction with public schools in New York is longstanding? and that in the 1990s through the first few years of Bloomberg control ?few residents were satisfied,? one thing is clear: the bloom is off.? The third term has been especially hard on
The New York Times continues to provide a generous medley of education reporting, including, of course, from their controversial "On Education" columnist Michael Winerip.? Alas, Winerip is not among the three recent stories I want to highlight here:
Troubled Schools Mimicking Charters This is an intriguing piece by Sam Dillon, about school reform in Houston, but I stopped short when I got to this line:
In the first experiment of its kind in the country, the Houston public schools are testing whether techniques proven successful in high-performing urban charters can also help raise achievement in regular public schools.
First of its kind?? I ran this by my friend Hal Kwalwasser, who has just finished a book (for which I provided some editing advice), describing improvement strategies in many traditional school districts.?? Writes Hal in an email:
There are lots of districts around the country that are doing the things that Houston is now about to do. Nothing new here?.? The big question is not that Houston is trying them out now, but why hundreds if not thousands of districts have not done the same thing - and not done it many years ago.
Time to Revive Home Ec This is a gem of an essay, written by Michigan State historian Helen Zoe Veit.
Reviving [Home Economics] and its original premises ? that producing good, nutritious food is profoundly important, that it takes study and practice, and that it can and should be taught through
In the middle of his column today, ?David Brooks drops in this little nugget:
The United States became the wealthiest nation on earth primarily because Americans were the best educated. ?That advantage has entirely eroded over the past 30 years.
Though the ?advantage? he is referring to here is most likely the economic one, there is no doubt that Brooks sees the strong connection between the nation's economic and educational health ? and it should not be too much of a stretch (or putting words in his mouth) to say that the thirty-year erosion applies to our education system as well.? Brooks might also have added that they (our early 20th-century American educator ancestors) created the world's most educated people by educating lots of poor kids.? In Henry Luce's phrase the ?last century was ?the American century? and as Brooks might have said, it's because our educators were predominantly no-nonsense on at least this point: that we get wealthy by educating the poor, we don't get educated by making the poor wealthy.
Brooks's larger point here is positive -- and slightly different than the one Mike makes in his When public education's two Ps disagree (which is to stop thinking parents ?are dummies for liking their schools the way they are?). But they share the same common sense suggestion:? that we can't and shouldn't govern from the fringes.? Says Brooks,
It will take an active government to reverse this stagnation ? from
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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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