Christopher D. Cerf, New Jersey Commissioner of Education:
McGuinn, Manna, and their fellow authors ask this fundamental question: Can the often-disappointing performance of our education system be explained in part by the way it’s organized? Are 14,000 separate districts ruled by elected school boards the best arrangement for 21st-century America? Their superb analysis shows how this long-standing form of education governance can present significant barriers to needed reform—and how to think about possible alternatives.
Michael W. Kirst, Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration, Stanford University, and President of the California State Board of Education:
A searing indictment of our fragmented and incoherent education governance system inherited from the 19th century. It illuminates the negative consequences of no one in charge. The book includes a stimulating array of promising alternatives for the contemporary governance context.
John E. Deasy, Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District:
This book provides a provocative look at how we govern our education system. The authors take a critical look at how we currently govern and identify concrete alternatives to ensure more youth are successful in school.
Carolyn J. Heinrich, Sid Richardson Professor of Public Affairs, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin:
This book deals with the elephant in the room in education reform—the governance challenges that are myriad, persistent, and obtrusive at multiple levels—and puts forward a broad range of arguments, evidence, and case examples culled from the brightest minds studying these issues today… The ideas and
Well-intentioned policy can do incalculable harm.
Photo by paul goyette
As a college freshman in an introductory sociology class, I was assigned the book There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. This story of two young boys trying to survive one of Chicago’s most impoverished and dangerous housing projects is absolutely heart-wrenching.
I won’t forget the book’s emotional grip, but equally influential to my intellectual development was the policy and political back story that explained how the boys’ toxic surroundings came to be.
Nearly two decades later, I’m still chastened by the book’s central lesson: A government policy developed by mostly benevolent leaders hoping to improve the lives of the disadvantaged—in this case, by razing old, low-income, ostensibly decaying neighborhoods in favor of gigantic public-housing skyscrapers—did incalculable harm to those it was designed to help.
This has been on my mind in recent weeks, as the national school-closure conversation has flared. Much of that conversation is familiar, but one assertion made by critics, namely that school closures destabilize entire neighborhoods, raises a question that hasn’t been discussed nearly enough. And though some might wave it away as irrelevant or worse, the lessons of the Kotlowitz book force me to take it seriously:
Can a bad school be good for a neighborhood?
Might there be compelling civic
While working for the New Jersey Department of Education, I consistently struggled with a basic problem. My organization wasn’t designed to do the things that our leadership team prioritized.
The converse was also true: The things that the organization was designed to do weren’t at the top of our list.
This second point was particularly troublesome, because those things—like sending teams out to do monitoring visits or pestering districts to send in reports—were required by federal laws.
We did our very best to deal with the hand we were dealt. We reorganized the department, made clear what our goals were, and repurposed funding and positions (to the extent permitted).
I think this is what responsible leaders of public-sector organizations do: They don’t bellyache about the problems and constrains of government agencies—they deal with them.
Throughout my career, I’ve bounced between the nonprofit and public sectors. I read, think, and write about issues for a while, and then I go into the system and spend whatever intellectual capital I’ve accumulated. Because of the “writing” part of this formula, I generally enter government service with a bit of, shall we say, baggage.
For example, there was (to be diplomatic) some concern that I had written extensively about the bad-ideaness of massive school-turnaround efforts and then, in my official capacity as state deputy education commissioner, had a hand in our state’s SIG grant.
I never saw a problem with this. My view was simple: When I work for the
Most of Obama's education-policy wishlist can't be done successfully in Washington—but can be done in a well-led state.
Photo from Policymic
Maybe Barack Obama should follow the Pope’s example and resign—but then he should run for governor, presumably in Illinois (where he would definitely be an improvement on the last dozen or so)
Because, at least when it comes to education policy, just about everything he wants the federal government to do involves things that can’t be done successfully from Washington but that well-led states can and should do: raise academic standards, evaluate teachers, give kids choices, and more.
His latest passion in this realm is “quality early childhood education for all.” And as post–State of the Union specifics seep from the White House, we see more clearly what he has in mind: a multi-pronged endeavor, including home visits by nurses, programs for poor kids from birth to age three (“Early Head Start”), more Head Start (mostly for three-year-olds), lots more state-sponsored preschool for four-year-olds (subsidized up to twice the poverty line), and full-day Kindergarten for all.
All are plausible undertakings by states. Only one, however, could be satisfactorily carried out by Uncle Sam: a thorough and much-needed makeover of the five-decade-old Head Start program. But that isn’t likely to happen. The retrograde Head Start
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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