Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 35
October 1, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
A great philanthropist
The UK tries charters?
To turnaround or not to turnaround?
A royal rumble in Queen City
Durbin's possible 180
Catholic Schools Become Charter Schools
The Checker grimace
This week, we welcome guest co-host Checker, as he and Andy (now a regular!) discuss the passing of Don Fisher, Arne Duncan's eight-month-late comments on No Child Left Behind, and Andy's recent reportage of D.C.'s Catholic to charter conversions. Then Amber tells us about a Brookings study that calculates the cost of moderate-swine-flu-pandemic-caused school closures and Rate that Reform closes the case of the double dipping New York principal.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / October 1, 2009
Plenty of philanthropists like to think they make a palpable difference in the real world, but often that turns out to be wishful thinking. It’s even rarer that they make an important positive difference during their own lifetimes.
Donald George Fisher, who died on Sunday at age 81, was one of those exceptions. A staggeringly successful businessman--he and his partner/wife/helpmate/alter ego Doris built Gap Inc. over forty years from a single San Francisco store to 3000+ outlets in 25 countries--he was not content just to make money or add to his holdings. Starting a decade ago, he asked Scott Hamilton to help him locate worthy education projects that, like Gap itself, might be replicated and scaled rather than left, like so many education innovations, as one-offs or (like many other innovations) grown into a hodge-podge of good and not-so-good copies. He told Scott that he didn’t want to be another Walter Annenberg; he and Doris didn’t want to give away money just to be seen doing so and being thanked.
Scott hunted far and wide and came back to Don and Doris with several candidates. All had merit but not until they looked closely at KIPP--the “Knowledge Is Power Program”--did this opportunity really come into focus. Here were a couple of terrific fledgling schools that had assembled all the essential elements to help disadvantaged middle-schoolers undergo an educational renaissance and get themselves on track for college. Moreover, KIPP had a pair of
October 1, 2009
It’s been a long time coming, but the British Tories have a new idea in education. And with the ruling party falling out of favor (or favour), these conservatives may just spark a revolution, if they can get it done. Instead of trying to change the calcified system, they’ll bring in fresh blood, by funding up to 500 privately-run schools with public dollars. But this charter-like model is even more radical than its peers in the U.S.; backers cite Sweden’s “free school” model, where all students have had the option of attending free publically-funded, independently-run schools since 1992, as their inspiration. (Imagine charter schools being legal in every corner of the U.S., and an accepted and welcomed educational option, often started by parents or community groups to pressure already existing schools to shape up or close down. That’s Sweden.) In Britain, however, these private operators would be banned from making a profit, whereas Sweden’s free schools are often run by for-profit companies. British teachers’ unions might even learn from their Swedish counterparts, which originally opposed free schools until they realized that their teachers enjoyed working there, where they have more classroom autonomy and are paid accordingly for good work. As for making this proposal into policy, well, just as the “if they can do it in Sweden…” argument has never sealed the deal for single-payer health care in the U.S., it might be similarly tough sledding for this Swedish
October 1, 2009
That is the question. So far three tactics have dominated: closing failing schools completely and relocating their students; reconstituting schools with new faculties and staff; or handing the reins of schools over to independent charter operators. Denver tried the first two years ago. Now Denver Public Schools reports that students from the closed failing schools, who were typically making less progress per year than their peers (e.g., half a year of learning in a full year of school), are now making more (e.g., more than a year of learning in that same time frame). That’s not to say that that progress has brought these students to proficiency, or anywhere near it (DPS did not release proficiency data for these students; we can only guess why), but this could be good news for Arne Duncan, one of whose suggested turnaround strategies is this very tactic. But he might want to look to the Bayou for another turnaround strategy: chartering grade-by-grade. In New Orleans, a few schools have taken up this approach, in which a charter operator slowly takes over a traditional failing school, grade-by-grade. The two co-exist in the same building but employ completely separate administrations, teachers, and organizational structures. Some say this plan will ease the transition from district to charter; others worry that older students are unfairly overlooked, since the schools expand by adding students from the lowest grade. We can surely predict a number of potential logistical nightmares,
October 1, 2009
Last fall’s infamous rift in the Democratic Party is back. No, not that rift and those electoral politics; we’re talking about education, of course (this not being the Health Care Gadfly), and specifically, the upcoming local voting cycle. The election of President Obama revealed a growing disagreement between the old-school Democratic Party establishment, a.k.a. the teachers’ unions, and the new-school reformers, who support charters and merit pay, amongst other things. Obama straddled this divide by picking conciliatory candidate Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and using stimulus cash to, once again, clothe the bitter reform pill with a sugary green glaze. But a year later, we come face-to-face with November 2009. Take the upcoming school board election in Cincinnati, Ohio, for example, where four seats (one open, three incumbents) of a completely Democratic seven-member board are up for a heated contest. Of the three incumbents, the Dems have endorsed only one, opting instead to back three fresh faces for the other three open seats. Since they control the board already, the Party is instead looking for more loyal members to sit upon it--specifically candidates who support labor. (The other two incumbents have voted more independently--of teachers’ union interests in particular--in recent years. This surely isn’t a highest stakes story--or election--but it is a microcosmic example of a greater schism the Donkeys will have to deal with someday--probably sooner rather than later.
October 1, 2009
Has he, mortal enemy of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, seen the error of his ways? Or as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “Do you believe in political miracles?” Earlier this year, Senator Dick Durbin, of which we speak, inserted language into the fiscal year 2009-2010 Congressional budget that cuts the program from next year’s expenditures. Now he’s changed his tune. “I have to work with my colleagues if this is going to be reauthorized, which it might be.” It’s not clear why Durbin has changed his mind, though he recently visited one of the private schools participating in the program and acknowledged that “many students are getting a good education from the program.” Newsflash: Third-year results released last June from a Department of Education evaluation of the program found that OPS students had made, on average, 3.1 more months progress in reading than their peers who were not offered a voucher. But Durban remains worried about accountability, specifically how scholarship recipients are being academically evaluated while in the program. May we offer you some committee reading? We happen to have a thing or two to say about that very topic.
“Dick Durbin and D.C. School Vouchers,” Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2009
October 1, 2009
The media just can’t get enough of Michelle Rhee. Not only must we know middle-of-the-night Blackberry habits, but we also want to know about her love life and how she likes her manicures. (She prefers to get straight to the polishing than dally with the massage portion of the hand-care routine, so says a close aide. No word on her favorite nail polish color.) Channeling O.K. Magazine, Marc Fisher dishes the scoop, even interviewing Mama and Papa Rhee, who live in Colorado, about their progeny. Next, her biceps will get named by a New York Times’ columnist (or her calves--Michelle loves heels) and her date nights recorded by the paparazzi.
“In Search of the Real Michelle Rhee,” by Marc Fisher, The Washington Post, September 27, 2009
Janie Scull / October 1, 2009
Harvard University Press
Amidst waning support for the decades-old effort to desegregate America’s schools, this book hails the achievements of Raleigh’s Wake County school system and its commitment to equalizing opportunity among its students. According to author Gerald Grant, the pivotal moment occurred in 1976, when city and county merged, an event which not only broke down barriers between white suburban students and inner-city minority students but also raised expectations of academic excellence for all children. Grant traces the development of an “invisible wall” between city and suburbia, contrasting Wake County’s solution to Syracuse, New York’s continued geographic segregation. In the former, twenty-seven magnet schools were established to attract suburban students to the inner-city; in the latter, rising poverty and failed attempts to desegregate resulted in what was effectively a racialized tracking system. As scores rose in Raleigh, so too did the belief that it was the system’s responsibility to ensure all children succeeded. That the combined inner-city-suburban model is a successful one makes sense but it’s hard to imagine suburban voters elsewhere agreeing to similar mergers anytime soon. You can purchase a copy here.
Stafford Palmieri / October 1, 2009
Seton Education Partners
Faced with an unsustainable financial model, falling enrollment, and grim prospects for further philanthropic support, in 2007, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. chose to convert seven of its inner-city schools to charter schools. This case study tells the story of that charter conversion process, not as an argument that this is the solution for all Catholic schools facing closure, but to glean key lessons for other Archdiocese that might want to travel the same route. Author Andy Smarick found ten such lessons from the Washington experience. Many are operational, such as that working with the charter authorizing body, in this case the DC Public Charter School Board, “early and often” is central to success. Others are more results oriented, like the fact that conversion will likely increase enrollment and bring in more students who are behind academically, straining the new schools. And still others are environmental, like having an already existing network--in D.C., it’s the Center City Consortium--helps pave the way for a smoother transition. One of the biggest hurdles, of course, is how to replace--but not remove--religion; in other words, the structure, discipline, and character building that are provided by religious instruction should be maintained in a secular way. There’s much more to be found in this narrative. Read it here.