In case you missed them, a few notable events from the last month (or so):
An amazing story from Erik Robelen at Education Week begins…
Overriding the governor’s veto, New Hampshire’s Republican-led legislature has enacted a new law that requires school districts to give parents the opportunity to seek alternatives to any course materials they find objectionable. The measure, approved this month, calls on all districts in the state to establish a policy for such exceptions, but sets two key conditions. First, the district must approve of the substitute materials for the particular child, and second, the parents must pay for them. Although at least a few states, including New Hampshire, already have laws giving parents some explicit recourse in particular subjects, such as sex education, this policy appears to be more expansive in its potential reach.
Robelen quotes Fordham’s curriculum guru, Kathleen Porter-Magee, leaning toward parents:
I don’t think it’s crazy to say parents should have a say in what their kids are learning, especially when it affects issues about their faith and belief system,” Ms. Porter-Magee said. “The problem is that the bill is written so broadly.
This is certainly not the first shot fired in what will be a prolonged battle to decentralize education, but it surely brings the fight to the curriculum trenches.
Teachers really really do count. Kudos to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times for appreciating the stakes of the debate over the Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff
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
While the arguments about silver bullets and secret sauces for successful schools continue, I confess fealty to Justice Potter Stewart’s observation about the definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
In fact, I would wager (although I’m no Mitt Romney) that I could walk into any school in America and within 30 minutes, without looking at any data, tell you whether the students in that school are performing well – or poorly. And I’m a novice.
There is no secret sauce except what hardworking teachers, administrators, and students create.
During the last month I have been visiting high performing high schools in Ohio – high performing poor students—for an upcoming “needles in a haystack” report for Fordham’s Ohio team* (see 2010’s Needles report for a taste of what’s to come) and can confirm Justice Stewart’s aphorism. Success is in the air, the hallways, the offices, the gyms, the cafeterias. It’s on the walls—and probably in the water. There is no secret sauce except what hardworking teachers, administrators, and students create.
It was thus not surprising to see Roland Fryer’s latest study of charter schools conclude that the key ingredients of success were “increased time, better human capital, more student-level differentiation, frequent use of data to inform instruction, and a culture of high expectations.” (See Jay Greene’s summary of Fryer’s work and Sam Dillon’s in the New York Times story last September.)
A culture of high expectations – that
'Twas the day before the State of the Union, and all through the House, not an educator was stirring, not even a teacher union louse...
We shall see tomorrow night, but this is already looking to be the Year of the Education Governor. With NCLB being pummeled from left and right and Race to the Top in suspended inanimation, the feds seem unusually quiet, if not on the run.
In an essay this morning in The Hill, Juan Williams, who is hosting a new video documentary about how Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is “risking his political life by fighting the city’s teachers’ union to improve schools,” says “there is little urgency [about education reform] in the halls of Congress.”
And New York Times education columnist Michael Winerip, also this morning, calls attention to the incredibly difficult work of figuring out how to evaluate the 175,000 teachers in New York State, 79 percent of the state's total teacher population, who will be subject to the new RTTT-driven rules. He points out that the state education department, its budget slashed by 40 percent in the last few years, won’t be able to do much, according to state commissioner John King, except “provide guidance and models.” Concludes Winerip, “the ultimate responsibility for monitoring would be left to principals, superintendents and school boards.”
Kathleen explored the implementation challenges for the Common Core last week, remaining cautiously optimistic that “states are taking CCSS implementation seriously and that they are working to reorient their education systems to the new standards.”
The point seems to be
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
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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