Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 9
March 3, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
Yearning to break free
What superintendents say when the doors are closed
By , , ,
The disjoint between Democrats and ed-reform
Chris Christie wins the war of words
The Nation's Report Card: Science 2009: Trial Urban District Assessment
The results in one word: dismal
Customized Schooling: Beyond Whole-School Reform
Rebuilding the education system from scratch
Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector's Best
A playbook for charter expansion
Rick rocks Stevie Wonder-style
Mike and Rick compare GOP govs, determining who is the fairest of them all. They then think outside the box on integration before debating findings from our recent survey of Ohio supes. Amber dissects the latest science NAEP TUDA results and Chris ODs on adderall.
Education in Ohio, as in most of the country, is coming to terms with a challenging “new normal,” as Arne Duncan calls it—the prolonged period ahead when schools must produce better results with diminished resources. The Buckeye State faces a daunting budget shortfall over the next two years, the resolution of which will powerfully affect K-12 education, which now consumes about 40 percent of the state’s money. And Ohio’s situation is far from unique.
Yet schools—in Ohio and beyond—can produce better-educated students on leaner rations so long as their leaders are empowered to deploy the available resources in the most effective and efficient ways, unburdened by mandates, regulatory constraints, and dysfunctional contract clauses. That’s the message that comes through loudest from a new survey of the state’s school superintendents. And again there’s no reason to believe that Ohio’s situation is unique.
While governors and lawmakers are responsible for balancing state budgets, it is district and school leaders who must make their schools work on tighter resources while still boosting achievement and effectiveness. Over the past year, as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has organized various discussions, conferences, and symposia across Ohio on the big challenge of “doing more with less” in K-12 education, we’ve been privy to innumerable comments—usually off the record—by superintendents and school leaders along the lines of, “We could survive these cuts if we had real control over our budgets.” They called in particular for greater authority to manage their spending on and deployment of personnel. Many even said that enhancing that authority was more important than receiving more
Michael J. Petrilli / March 3, 2011
As Alexander Russo has rightly noted, many reformers (especially those of the Democratic persuasion) are struggling to figure out what to say about Wisconsin (and Illinois and Ohio) and the whole collective-bargaining muddle. Last week, Joe Williams, our friend at Democrats for Education Reform, offered a thoughtful, if tortured, take on the issue, ultimately landing at a bizarre place: that “this attempt to stomp unions out of existence threatens to hurt” the education-reform movement (check the same link above for more). Andy Rotherham joined the chorus, harping that “overreaching Republicans like Scott Walker may actually be setting back efforts to make some common-sense changes to teacher contracts.”
Yet these nonplussed progressives miss two key points. First, the unions’ collective-bargaining privileges prevent the expansion of the selfsame reforms—from merit pay and rigorous teacher evaluations to quality-sensitive layoffs—that these Democratic reformers favor. Yes, teachers “should have a voice,” but they don’t have a God-given right to bargain for free health care, unaffordable pensions, or Kafkaesque evaluation protocols. Second, the unions are only likely to offer concessions—on wages, benefits, teacher evaluations, and more—under heavy pressure. Remember the 1990s? Arguably it was the Republican drive for vouchers that gave rise to—and cover for—the charter-school movement. Something similar is playing out now. Democratic ed reformers should see Governors Walker, Kasich, Daniels, Christie, and Scott as blessings from on high, for their “extreme” positions can make DFER’s many bold ideas taste like plain vanilla.
Perhaps, as Rick Hess noted, Williams, Rotherham, and others are just “triangulating” between the unions on one hand and the Republican governors on
March 3, 2011
In the education-policy realm, where the currency of rhetoric earns followers and acclaim, Garden State governor Chris Christie reigns as king—and it’s not a bad place to sit. While Reagan had his “welfare queens,” and Giuliani his “squeegee men,” Christie has his “sprawling and powerful public-sector unions.” To combat this leviathan, Christie has found the perfect public rallying cry, well-articulated in a recent New York Times Magazine piece on the governor by Matt Bai. Through anecdote (and a bit of demagoguery), Christie explains the link between his state’s fiscal crisis and public-union fringe benefits—giving himself plenty of room to act. Of course, Christie isn’t the only education reformer to wage the war of words. Michelle Rhee puts “students first.” Fordham battles the “status quo” and the “education establishment.” But Chris Christie, in his own coarse and charismatic way, could teach us all a few lessons. And, as the war of words melds into the war of ideas, we’d all be wise to take notes.
“In War of Words, ‘Reform’ a Potent Weapon,” by Sean Cavanaugh, Education Week, March 1, 2011.
“How Chris Christie Did His Homework,” by Matt Bai, The New York Times Magazine, February 24, 2011.
Gerilyn Slicker / March 3, 2011
The newly released NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) 2009 results for science in our major cities offer no condolences: Of the seventeen large urban districts that participated, none fared better than the national mean. Only three attained the national average on the fourth grade test (Austin, Charlotte, and Jefferson County, KY); for the eighth grade test, that number drops to one (Austin). Much more disheartening: Cleveland and Detroit each claim only 4 percent proficiency in science in fourth grade. As this was the first NAEP TUDA administered using the newly designed science frameworks, comparisons to previous assessments aren’t possible. What is possible is to use these dismal results to spur on a conversation about the need to focus on strong curricular provision in this key subject.
|Click to listen to commentary on Wisconsin from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009: Trial Urban District Assessment (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, 2011).
Marena Perkins / March 3, 2011
The back-cover blurb for this book characterizes it as “ambitious”—and the word couldn’t be more fitting. Within its ten chapters, nineteen of education’s big thinkers (yes, including Checker Finn and former Fordham VP Eric Osberg) challenge our basic conceptions of education—starting with the foundational unit of educational delivery (it’s not the school, but the student). After identifying and explaining this education customization (or “unbundling”), the book presents the challenges faced around service delivery, quality control, and policy implications. The authors major foci are parent choice (at the course-level, not simply the school-level), differentiated instruction (both the content and the form), harnessing technologies, and data collection. Throughout, the authors infuse organizational and district case studies to drive home their points—a necessary addition as the book itself asks the reader to reconceptualize ingrained notions of schooling. Customized Schooling is sure to ruffle feathers—not only does it force readers to think outside the education-provision box, it asks them to tear apart the sides and throw them in a shredder. But the conversation it will incite is long overdue.
Frederick M. Hess and Bruno V. Manno, eds., Customized Schooling: Beyond Whole-School Reform (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2011).
Janie Scull / March 3, 2011
The authors don’t beat around the bush: Bad charters may exist, but so do excellent ones—and the latter should be supported and scaled to serve exponentially more students. If the top 10 percent of charter schools expanded at a rate similar to other growing industries, we learn from this PPI study, they could reach all children in poverty by 2025. To do so, the authors offer recommendations on how to overcome current practical, political, and environmental barriers to growth, borrowing strategies from businesses and organizations like Apple, Habitat for Humanity, and Starbucks. First, they advise that the top charter providers rid themselves of their “pervasive fear of growth”; leaders should commit not just to excellence, but to excellence for increasing numbers of students. Other suggestions include: negotiating performance-based funding in contracts; ramping up efforts to import talent from other industries and cultivate it in the education sector; extending the reach of the best teachers through technology and innovation; providing incentives and rewards for leaders who achieve successful growth; and aligning with other similar organizations to share ideas and resources. While some may balk at the stark comparison between the education sector and other (largely for-profit) industries, this brief may prove to be the shot-in-the-arm that the charter sector needs to cure it of its complacency and timidity. The report serves less as a blueprint for development and more as a call to arms for top charter providers, and as the title implies, the possibilities are exponential.
Emily Ayscue Hassel, Bryan C. Hassel, and Joe Ableidinger, “Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector’s