It’s hard to tell whether Joe Nocera’s op-ed essay in the New York Times last week, “Teaching With The Enemy,” is wonderfully nuanced or just silly. That’s surely what some education observers might wonder about the notion that Randi Weingarten, former head of New York City’s teacher union and current head of the American Federation of Teachers, should be chancellor of New York City schools.* In fact, Nocera notes that he himself “nearly fell out of my chair” when Steven Brill told him that Weingarten, who is “the enemy” of Brill’s new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, threw him a book party.
This, of course, is vintage Weingarten, described by Nocera as “whip-smart” and “politically savvy.” But the larger question is what happened to Brill, founder of American Lawyer and Court TV and a formidable presence in the New York media scene, on the way to the education repair shop?
Himself whip-smart and politically savvy, Brill made instant news when he took on the city’s teachers union in a 2009 New Yorker story about the city’s notorious “rubber rooms,” where bad teachers went to soak up full salaries while doing nothing. In that story Brill described Weingarten as such a ferocious defender of teachers that she “would protect a dead body in the classroom.” That was meant to suggest that teacher unions weren’t so good for our kids.
And indeed, in the ensuing book’s first
I'm not so sure Mike is right that ?we have a parenting problem, not a poverty problem,? and I'm even less sure that he is right that educators should ?start talking about the problem."
I know this may sound heretical, since anyone who has spent more than a minute in an inner city school or neighborhood (see my Ed Next story on two Chicago charters) knows the intensity of the social dysfunction ? and no school is immune to its effects. But parenting is not a problem that educators are equipped to handle ? they have a hard enough time agreeing on curriculum.? I think of a sixth-grade teacher in our small district who, on meet-the teacher-night, passed out no ?parent contracts? and no? ?student contracts? ? both were then the rage -- and gave no lectures about student behavior and the role of the parent.? He described what he was going to teach that year, what books the kids would be reading and then said to the assembled parents, ?You don't have to worry about a thing; I'll take care of your kids.? And he did.? He had the same kids from the same bad families that every other teacher had, but he didn't complain about them ? and his classroom was quiet and orderly. ?And because of that, his students will be better parents.
None of this is to say that parents don't make a difference in a
Last year, Kansas City Superintendent John Covington made headlines when he stabilized the hemorrhaging Kansas City School District (which had lost 75 percent of its students in the past four decades) by shutting half of the district's schools, selling the central office building, and axing close to a quarter of the administrative staff. And he did all of this with the backing of the school board and community leaders. So imagine their surprise (and ire) when Covington, who has been at the helm of KC schools for about two years, abruptly resigned last week?only to take the wheel of Michigan's nascent state-run ?reform school district,? the Education Achievement System (EAS). Finger-pointing and fist-shaking aside, there are a few big takeaways to be drawn from Covington's departure?and his arrival in Motown.
First: KC should have seen this coming?and should have planned for it. The lifespan of an urban supe is akin to that of an American Newt (which, for the non-zoologists out there is about three years). And it's even shorter for those, like Covington, who are brought in as transformational leaders. Dynamic leadership can jumpstart a district's success, but it needs to be buttressed by a smart?and painstakingly articulated?transition plan. The Center for Reinventing Public Education made this point (though they were speaking specifically to charter schools) back in December in their report ?You're Leaving? Sustainability and Succession in Charter Schools.?
Second: When it comes to high-quality district
2011 may already be a banner year for education reform (in part thanks to the foundation laid in 2010). Policymakers and education activists in many states (and in D.C.) have just cause to smile?and to soak in the victories that have been won. But don't assume that these victories will be long-held?or that they will spell great change for our hobbling education system?without targeted and sweeping changes to the nation's education governance structure. We can no longer ignore our antiquated governance arrangement?no matter if the subject bores us or we view attempts to change it as politically futile.
So says Checker Finn in the journal Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution Journal, released today.
He goes on to explain whence our current one-size-fits-all model of schooling originated?and why it's such a lemon now. Yet, despite all this, Finn notes that ?structural change in education is not totally impossible.? It'll be a hard squeeze?and will require not just the creation of lemonade but the planting of a whole new orchard of different fruits.
Finn further outlines what a new governance arrangement might look like, at least in part:
With the governor squarely in charge of education, states would wield most of the authority and provide most of the money, but those dollars would follow kids to the schools of their choice, which would largely run themselves, selecting their staffs, managing their budgets, etc. Most would be brick and mortar structures but many classes would be
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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