The new teachers contract in Newark has caused widespread celebration. It has earned praise from New Jersey’s governor and education commissioner, Newark’s mayor and superintendent, local and national labor leaders and many others. There seems to be a consensus that a new day has dawned for public education in this troubled city.
If state leaders are willing to seize the opportunity, this may be a turning point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.
The history of urban school improvement efforts, however, suggests that we might temper our enthusiasm. The side of the road is littered with much-ballyhooed but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fix failing inner-city schools.
Yet if state leaders are willing to seize the opportunity, this may be a turning point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.
The new contract is an enormous improvement over its predecessors. It reforms compensation by prioritizing effectiveness instead of seniority. It speeds the implementation of improved evaluations and enables change in the lowest-performing schools. It allows for greater school-level decision-making and removes bureaucratic barriers to reform.
The district will now be better positioned to attract and retain the best educators. District leaders will have the flexibility to make decisions that meet kids’ needs. New Jersey residents will have greater confidence that state, local and philanthropic funding will be spent in the right ways.
Accordingly, the agreement has spawned a remarkable degree of strange-bedfellow harmony, bringing together management and labor, left and right. Local
When I get a call from a reporter on a Friday, it typically means that a government agency is trying to dump bad news. When I get a call from a reporter on the Friday before Thanksgiving week, I know that a government agency is trying to dump really bad news.
The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”
And so it is with the U.S. Department of Education’s quiet release of results from the first year of the massive School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. (See Alyson Klein’s Ed Week coverage.)
The headline is simple: The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”
Almost three years ago, in an article for Education Next called “The Turnaround Fallacy”, I detailed how and why previous turnaround efforts failed so consistently and predicted that future efforts would amount to the same. Chapter 4 of my new book, The Urban School System of the Future, extends that argument with even more evidence.
It’s not just me. Tom Loveless’s 2009 Brown Center Report showed the dramatic failure of turnaround efforts over 20 years, and David Stuit’s remarkable and devastating 2010 study powerfully reinforced these findings.
Now the Department, doing its job, is trying to paint the new data as a good-news
After weeks of Sandy-induced delay and reports of discontent among union membership, Newark teachers approved a “groundbreaking” new contract Wednesday,1,767 to 1,088. The new deal includes bonuses for high performance, an important first step for performance-related teacher pay in a state that has historically been a bastion of union strength and intransigence. Its value from a reform perspective, however, is mostly symbolic: Heavily subsidized by private donors (see Zuckerberg, Mark) despite Newark’s already-breathtaking per-pupil spending, the agreement would offer yearly awards of up to $5,000 to educators rated “highly effective”—a designation that would factor in fellow teachers’ evaluations. A traditional compensation option would also be available to teachers who prefer the status quo: hardly a transformative or replicable model.
The new Newark contract is hardly a transformative or replicable model.
Even still, approval was far from certain: Despite the strong support of media-darling Mayor Cory Booker and the blessing of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, many rank-and-file union members expressed strong reservations about the deal—one caucus within the union even warned that “it means indentured servitude for education workers.”
The union membership was right to take the deal. As Weingarten said, it is “a win for students, a win for teachers and a win for Newark.” National and local AFT chiefs deserve plenty of credit for making it happen: Reformers often gloss how challenging it must be for open-minded union leaders to persuade teachers to overcome decades of dogmatic resistance to the
Late last week, the US Department of Education announced the 20 winners of the latest “Investing in Innovation” competition.
On its website, the Department has a number of documents worth checking out if you’d like to learn a little more about the competition itself and those awarded funds. Here are the things that jumped out at me.
- I had never heard of most of the winners. Of late, the ed-reform community has become enamored of a number of flashy tech organizations that focus particularly on hybrid learning and the transition to Common Core. Most of these winners are outside of that cool-kids lunch table. Lesson to reformers: We should start grazing around the rest of the cafeteria.
- Almost three times the amount of money was given to “validation” awards (up to $15m) than to “development” awards (up to $3m); no money was given to the largest “scale up” categories (up to $25m).
- Grants were pretty well spread among the five absolute-priority areas, such as “Teachers and Principals,” “STEM,” and “Parent and Family.” However, only one award was given in the area of “Standards and Assessments” (to Jobs for the Future for work in the Rio Grande Valley and Denver, CO). This is a huge surprise, given the number of organizations that talk wide-eyed about the intersection of technology and Common Core. I would’ve expected a bunch of winners in the area of formative/interim assessments, lesson plans, online courses, etc.
- After lots of
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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