There’s nothing worse for a rogue member of the school board than sitting on a stage with graduating high school seniors, looking into an auditorium packed with adoring friends and relatives. The speeches gush with encomiums for the school that you (i.e. me) have been criticizing for years. “Don’t listen to the negative,” the congressman tells the class. “Unity,” gushes the valedictorian, recounting all the things he has learned from “the great teachers” he has had. The salutatorian cries. Applause.
I have been trying to “fix” my little district (2,300 students fifteen years ago, less than 1,900 today) ever since my son entered first grade (he is now finishing his third year in college). I ran for the board, won, quit, helped start a charter school (which crashed on the shoals of racial politics), started an email listserv dedicated to watching the district, and ran again for the board, winning another five-year stint—and a warning from my wife: Don’t quit again. I didn’t.
Three nights ago I attended my final meeting as a member of the board, after five years and some several thousand meetings. I had outlasted two superintendents and a good half-dozen board members. But despite being the senior person on the board, I leave sitting in the same seat, literally, as when I began—the very last place in the always-awkward line-up of tables and chairs stretching across whatever room we were in; seven board members, the superintendent, the assistant
After reading about the eleventh-hour teacher evaluation deal brokered by Governor Andrew Cuomo (see the New York Times report here) in my local newspaper (which I’m not divulging, to protect the innocent), I turned the page and was drawn to a regular section of the paper called “Restaurant Inspections.” Like its cousin, “Police Blotter,” this is where the dirt is, so to speak. And I read about many of our local restaurants, in detail that I’m sure did not make the owners very happy. Here's one with five violations:
…the restaurant was found to have a dirty slicer with dried food debris, a dirty floor with grease and food debris accumulation around equipment and inside the walk-in refrigerator, no visible thermometer in the prep refrigeration, absorbent tablecloths stored on the shelf underneath the cook’s prep table with dried food debris on the baking supply rack, and a can of wasp/hornet spray stored in the kitchen on the shelf next to a flour storage bin.
I wondered, What if these restaurant inspection results were sent only to the restaurant’s patrons? Why do they have to be published in the paper for all to see?
That is essentially what the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) convinced the state legislature to do for its public schools last week: Only the parents of students in a teacher’s classroom shall know if the teacher is serving up unrefrigerated content.
Only the parents
Catching up on some reading, I discovered some stories that may be old news to some of you, but merit a second look:
Oh, the pineapple.
Photo by Richard North.
I would like to skip this one, so named for the test question used by a big testing company, Pearson, and subsequently used by a number of states, including New York, for its 8th-grade English language arts exams, that asked kids to analyze a story adapted from one written by popular children’s book author Daniel Pinkwater about a “race” between a hare and a pineapple. Leave it to the intrepid Leonie Haimson, the anti-testing and class size matters pit bull, to uncover this dastardly deed, issue a scathing condemnation that “The ONLY right answer is Pearson; for getting paid $32 million from NY State for these recycled, annoying and pointless exams,” and force the NYS education commissioner to discount the answers on the pineapple test question. The horror of it. Wrote Ms. Haimson a few weeks later, in the New York Times: “…few people who heard about a test question involving a talking pineapple could help but question the judgment of those who would include this material on a standardized test used to determine the future of children and schools.”
This is my first post in two months and I must thank the contributors to TBQ (The BIG Question) for keeping the governance issues on the front burner in my absence (more on what I was doing “on sabbatical” in subsequent Board’s Eye View posts). We had a wonderful group of contributors, from arch reformer Jay Greene to arch establishmentarian Anne Bryant. Michelle Rhee wrote, as did John Chubb, Harold Kwalwasser, David Harris, John Kirtley, Tim Kremer, Darrell Allison, Mark Anderson, and Robyne Camp. It’s an impressive group of people who think hard about the mechanisms of education governance.
Read all the TBQ essays.
Camp, who just lost a tight re-election race for the board in her small Westchester County, NY, district, offers a fascinating perspective on school reform, suggesting that reform may be harder for the rich. “Education reform here in the leafy suburbs,” she concludes, “will have to trickle up from New York City’s poorest schools.”
Tim Kremer, who directs the New York State School Boards Association, is a steady advocate of local control, suggesting that “many boards have a healthy dose of skepticism about grand, top-down initiatives such as Race to the Top, Common Core Standards and the new Annual Professional Performance
- 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.
Sign Up for updates from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- Daniel Willingham: Science and Education Blog
- National School Board Association’s School Board News Today
- National Governors Association Center for Best Practices
- Texas Association of School Boards
- New York State School Board Association
- Florida School Boards Association
- California School Boards Association
- Program on Education Policy and Governance
- The Center for Research on Education Outcomes