The Times Fernanda Santos profiles five New York City schools to give us some lessons in austerity. Though there are not a lot of new ideas ? lay off teachers, lay off teachers, lay off teachers ? the fact that principals have some autonomy about how they tighten their belts is good news.? With budgets cut over two percent, Santos writes,
To make ends meet, principals have trimmed after-school programs, shrunk their support staffs and tightened their schools' use of things like printing paper, markers and Post-it notes. They have dismissed coaches who used to help teachers prepare for their lessons, and teachers whose salaries they could no longer pay.
The best part of the story is the sense of ownership of the challenge on display. Everyone is upbeat! Principals and their assistants are rolling up their sleeves and getting back into the classroom and the hallways.? "I don't need anyone walking the halls," says one principal. "I can do that myself." If they can keep the kids learning, we may be on the right track. And New York continues to show us how to transform a school system into a system of schools.? Hopefully, these principals all have copies of Stretching the School Dollar.
--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
The other day Michael Winerip raised what has come to be an increasingly contentious question in the public education reform debate ? the use of private money for public purposes. Though he unfortunately veers off into a spat between long-time contenders for control of New York State's public school system (and doesn't touch the deeper questions), Winerip's story is nonetheless a good one: a state education department whose budget has been slashed 35 percent in the last two years, solicits ?private donations to set up a panel of 13 ?research fellows,? paid as much as $189,000 each, to advise the state's education commissioner on matters of education policy. ?As Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch, herself one of New York's richest, told Winerip:
People in the department were burning out?. This was a great way to enhance our capacity.
Sounds reasonable. These are tough times and deep-pocketed individuals are stepping up to the plate to help out. Is that a good idea?? Aside from Jay Greene's recent advice (which is old advice), that ?Philanthropists with billions of dollars to devote to education reform should build new institutions and stop trying to fix old ones,? the question posed, by innuendo, by Winerip, is whether this sort of private? salting of the bureaucracy is kosher.? The Board of Regents had no say in the selection of the research fellows, who went on to make a number of recommendations, the most contentious of which was
So suggests Sam Dillon in his New York Times report this morning, ?State Challenges Seen As Whittling Away Federal Education Law.?? Dillon tracks the origins of the newest revolt against No Child Left Behind to Montana, where its education secretary, Denise Juneau, wrote to Arne Duncan last April informing him that the Big Sky state wasn't going to follow what was once considered the nation's premier accountability law.
?We won't raise our annual [NCLB-mandated] objectives this year,? Juneau later told a group of school chiefs from ten rural states, Dillon reports. And ?we're not asking for permission.?
Dillon says that ?half a dozen other states have joined the chorus in recent weeks, using less defiant language but still asking for relief from the testing mandates.?? But he quotes Larry Shumway, superintendent of schools in Utah, another breakaway state, sounding pretty inflammatory:
Pretty soon all the schools will be failing in America, and at that point the law becomes meaningless?.? States are going to sit and watch federal accountability implode. We're seeing the end of an era.
That may be how it looks to some failing states.? But the picture is far more nuanced than that; in fact, if you throw waivers and cheaters and union-busters into the debate, one might say that we're experiencing a bit of an accountability brain freeze at the moment.? And the Republican-controlled House of Representatives seems content to do nothing about it.
But before wading into the politics of
About three-quarters of the way through Alan Schwarz's story in today's New York Times, "Atlanta School Year Begins Amid a Testing Scandal,? a parent of a first grader is quoted as saying, ?But I love the principal.? Was she named?? No. Was her previous school named?? No. Are the cheaters still there?? No?.?
Finally, I thought. Schwarz had written (paragraph three) that ?nearly 200 teachers and principals admitted to tampering with standardized tests to raise students' scores? and I had immediately wondered, What happened to them?? Fired?? Does Atlanta have a rubber room large enough to hold all the suspects? Did they find replacements?? Major administrative headache, I would think. So, I was relieved to see a parent ask similar questions and expected that would lead to the answers to my questions. Unfortunately, not.
Since inquiring minds might want to know, I checked the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, according to a July 28 report, found out that all the implicated educators, including 38 principals, are being put on administrative leave -- though it is? unclear when exactly that would go into effect.? In the same story the district says that 41 of the 179 implicated have already quit or retired. Sounds like an administrative nightmare to me. Says the AJC:
Superintendent Erroll Davis, who has been adamant that none of the employees will work in front of the district's children again, plans to start termination proceedings as quickly as he can.
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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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