Want to know if school reform is winning in the court of public opinion? If the myriad efforts at ed-reform advocacy are paying off? Here are seven races and referenda to watch tonight, in order of importance:
Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett with the author.
Photo by Joe Portnoy.
1. Tony Bennett’s re-election
No one has pushed a more aggressive education-reform agenda than Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction (and Ed-Reform Idol) Tony Bennett and his fellow ed-reform activist Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. A big win will give a big boost to Hoosier-style reform.
2. The Washington State charter initiative
Seattle is the largest city in the country that doesn’t have any charter schools. This initiative would finally fix that. Charter supporters have failed at the polls before; will they prevail this time around?
3. Idaho’s Propositions 1 and 2
These two referenda would limit the scope of collective bargaining and mandate that student achievement be included in teacher evaluations. The unions are fighting these aggressively; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is paying to defend them.
4. Michigan’s Proposition 2
This union-backed measure would enshrine collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst group is working to defeat it.
5. Georgia’s charter-school resolution
This would amend the
A huge part of my educational worldview is “sector agnosticism,” my disinterest in who runs schools as long as those schools are high performing. My new book is built around this philosophy; it argues for a new urban school system that assesses each school based on its performance and then applies strategies to schools based on their performance not on their operators.
Private schools should be part of the urban school system of the future.
Unlike so many others studying urban education, I believe that private schools should be part of this urban school system of the future. Per my axiom above, I don’t much care if an urban school is run by a private or religious organization if it gets great results for underserved kids and adheres to basic democratic, pluralistic principles.
But in the past when the state attempts to fold private schools into the mix via scholarship or tax-credit programs, public accountability is always the major stumbling block. Will participating private schools test students and report results? Will they test just the scholarship kids or all of their students? What test will they use? Will low-performance disqualify a private school from participation?
It has appeared for years that public debate and public policy would be unable to solve this problem. But we may have had a breakthrough.
As Ed Week’s Eric Robelen reports in this fascinating article, more and more private schools are choosing
The traditional urban public school system is broken, and it cannot be fixed.
It must be replaced.
Given urban districts’ unblemished record of failure over generations, you’d think these statements would be widely accepted and represent the core of the education-reform strategy. But somehow, just about everyone working in this area assumes that the traditional school district is essential and immortal—that because of its age and standing, it must be the focus of reform. Few recognize the anachronism of a model created by historical circumstances—mass immigration, industrialization, and Progressive Era-idealism—rather than today’s social realities and educational priorities.
Chartering provides a blueprint for the urban school system of the future.
Photo by Todd Ehlers.
I am convinced that the district is not part of the solution. It is the problem. Persistent low performance is the natural consequence of this institution that our predecessors placed at the heart of urban public schooling. No city will ever realize a renaissance in K-12 education so long as the district continues as the dominant, default delivery system.
The blueprint for the urban school system of the future can be found in charter schooling.
Chartering’s systemic innovations have already shown that the district need not be the exclusive operator of all public
In January 2010, California became the first state to offer parents another path when it passed the Parent Empowerment Act, aka “parent trigger” law. This measure allows parents to force turnaround efforts at a school, similar to those framed by the federal School Improvement Grant program, including reconstitution as a charter and replacement of half the staff. Since then, six other states have adopted “trigger” legislation (including Ohio, which passed a pilot program for Columbus City Schools in 2011). Another twenty-plus have considered (or are currently considering) similar legislation. This form of parent empowerment has merit, even if it hasn’t actually happened yet in real places. Indeed, no real school has successfully implemented a parent trigger—for school systems, teacher groups, and other establishment forces have myriad means available to block it.
For a preview of how it might really happen, we turn to Hollywood: This film—produced (and presumably subsidized) by Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media and starring Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)—chronicles the efforts of two moms (one of them also a teacher) as they struggle to reconstitute their horrific Pittsburgh elementary school under the state's hypothetical "Fail Safe Act." (No, Pennsylvania hasn’t passed a parent-trigger law yet.)
All the essential—and predictable—characters are featured: The apathetic and/or change-averse school-board members; the conniving teacher-union head; the vindictive and heinous principal; the
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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