I usually keep two books going at once. I like to find the connections and divergences between seemingly unrelated texts.
Going in, I figured the brain-candy thread tying the two together would be the dissimilarities between their nearly contemporary lives: Douglass (1818–95) born into American slavery, eventually escaping, becoming a leading abolitionist and statesman; Catherine (1729–96) born into German nobility, marrying into Russian royalty, ruling for more than 30 years.
But as it turns out, the stories of these historical giants have three associations particularly relevant to our work.
Catherine the Great tried to end serfdom—but eventually grew acclimated to power.
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons
First, though she was spectacularly wealthy—casually distributing estates, amassing the largest art collection in Europe’s history—Catherine tried to end the abomination of serfdom. As the book recounts, “The conditions of Russian serfs resembled that of black slaves in America.”
It is striking how two people from such disparate backgrounds could be compelled to advocate for the same moral cause. Douglass lived the horror: He had no knowledge of his age and was separated from mother in infancy. He was often awakened in morning by “the most
A useful new report from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation underscores the painful divide between parents and education reformers on the crucial topic of what to do about bad schools.
Schools play many roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those.
Photo by hundrednorth
In a nutshell, if the neighborhood school is crummy, parents want it fixed. So do community leaders. Ed reformers are far more apt to want to close it and give families alternatives such as charter schools.
As Andy Smarick has perceptively written, schools play multiple roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those. Hence, shuttering a school affects more than the convenience of keeping one’s own kids in a familiar (and generally close-at-hand) facility, maybe even with that nice Ms. Greensleeves who teaches fourth grade there. As Jean Johnson writes on behalf of Public Agenda, based on a recent series of focus groups (as well as much other research), “Most parents see local public schools as important community institutions and viscerally reject the idea that closing schools—even those that are persistently low-performing—is a good way to improve accountability in education.”
On the reform side, however, Johnson writes, “In many communities, school leaders are closing or drastically reorganizing low-performing
- The U.S. Department of Education just announced more SIG money going out the door. At a TBFI event late last year, the Department and I tussled about the results to date, which showed that more than a third of participating schools (already among the lowest performing in the nation) had gotten worse despite this multi-BILLION dollar program. I sadly predicted these grim results several years ago—not because I’m clairvoyant but because stacks of research over decades showed that turnarounds aren’t a reliable or scalable strategy for generating more high-quality seats. But the Department remains bullish; the release says, “Early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools.”
Many of us are looking forward to thoroughly analyzing the program’s effects, but we’ve been in a holding pattern. The Department still hasn’t released school-level results from Year 1 yet (even though those tests were given two years ago), and we’ve not yet received any results from Year 2 (even though those tests were given a year ago). Forgive the quick snark, but maybe we just have to wait until close of business on the Friday before Thanksgiving week again to get results.
- If you follow the common-assessments consortia, make sure to read this post by Catherine Gewertz about PARCC’s and SB’s plans to maintain financial sustainability when federal dollars run out. This is just one of the
Category: Charters & Choice / Curriculum & Instruction / Governance / Standards, Testing, & Accountability
There are too many cooks in the education kitchen—and nobody's really in charge.
To anyone concerned with the state of America’s schools, one of the more alarming experiences of the past few decades has been seeing waves of important reforms and promising innovations crash on the rocks of failure. Why this persistent failure? One major cause is our flawed, archaic, and inefficient system for organizing and operating our public schools. To their discredit, education reformers in the U.S. this past quarter century have largely neglected the issues of governance and structure—widely regarded either as politically impractical to touch or as too boring to get anyone interested. Yet the very structures and governance of our K–12 system often prevent other badly needed changes from taking place, enduring, or succeeding.
Perhaps the biggest failing of the education system is its fragmented approach to making decisions; there are too many cooks in the education system, and nobody is really in charge. Despite America’s romantic attachment to local control, the reality is that the way it works today represents the worst of both worlds. On one hand, district-level power constrains individual schools; its standardizing, bureaucratic, and political force ties the hands of principals, keeping them from doing what is best for their pupils with regard to budget, staffing, and curriculum. On the other,
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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