Governance

The Harmony Charter school opus in today's Times is a great read.? It's very long, over 4,000 words, starting on the front page and covering two full pages on the inside of the paper. But its author, Stephanie Saul, is a crack ?investigative reporter? and a 1995 recipient of a Pulitzer -- not an education writer.? The headline is a grabber: ?Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas,? as is the subhead:? ?Some Founders Belong to Islamic Movement.?? Saul tells the story of the Cosmos Foundation, which runs Harmony and is now the largest charter school operator in the Lone Star State, and focuses much of her attention on a ?close-knit network of businesses and organizations run by Turkish immigrants? that benefit from the $100 million in taxpayer funds Harmony receives to run its 33 Texas schools. ?Throw in a ?charismatic Turkish preacher of a moderate brand of Islam? whose followers have helped start 120 schools in 25 states, lots of male teachers from foreign countries, and you have the makings of an education potboiler.? ?The growth of these `Turkish schools,' as they are often called,? writes Saul, "has come with a measure of backlash, not all of it untainted by xenophobia.?

Though there don't appear to be any smoking guns here, the story should be read in conjunction with Jay Greene's limits and dangers of philanthropy essay, as it raises important issues about charter accountability ? in this case, it's less about academics...

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Though American education has taken few actual steps to pattern itself on other countries, in recent years we've displayed a near-obsessive interest in how we're doing in relation to them (e.g. on TIMSS and PISA results), and in what they're doing and how they do it. We at Fordham have found ourselves doing this a couple of times and we've periodically reviewed major analyses of ?education success stories around the world? by the likes of McKinsey. We've also read our share?OK, more than our share?of paeans to Finland, Singapore, you name it. (At the U.S. Education Department, I helped lead a study of Japanese education as long ago as 1988.) I've also?long admired Marc Tucker's tireless efforts to get American educators and reformers to understand and appreciate how other nations address challenges that often resemble our own.

Old GlobeWhich isn't to say I always agree with him. And that's true of his latest paper, too?drawn from a book coming out in September.?He seeks to determine "what education policy might look like in the United States if it was [sic] based on the experiences of our most successful competitors." In that role, he casts Canada (Ontario), Finland, and three East Asian lands (Japan, Singapore, and the Shanghai region of China.) And in fifty pages he offers a wealth of insights that are surely perceptive yet not entirely applicable on these...

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The New York Times' education columnist Michael Winerip spoils another good story today.? Instead of giving us a profile of a great teacher evaluation program, he turns Jerry Weast's Peer Assessment Review system in Montgomery County, Maryland, into another excuse to throw punches at the school reform movement. ?One need not have to reject Jay Greene's interesting contention that ?organizations are incapable of innovating? in order to believe that education reform is possible in traditional school systems. But can't we at least applaud what Weast is doing in his 145,000-student district without having to follow Winerip down a somewhat slippery trail to conclude that Weast's success is Race to the Top's failure?

As Winerip rightly points out, the PAR program is a wide-ranging professional development system (invented, says Harvard Ed, in the early 1980s by teacher union leader Dal Lawrence in Toledo) ?that includes lots of mentoring by senior teachers and a ?panel? of teachers and administrators that actually votes to fire teachers. According to Weast, who has run the Maryland district since 1999, it took several years ?to build the trust? in teachers that ?we weren't playing gotcha.?? But in the 11 years since Montgomery County introduced PAR, reports Winerip, its panels have fired 200 teachers and persuaded another 300 to leave voluntarily ? this compared to just five teachers fired the previous ten years.

Sounds promising.? And Weast has been justly praised by many people for his successes -- which he is rightly...

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There has been the ?silver bullet? debate, the ?secret sauce? battle, the ?demonize teacher? tirades, and the ?cracking the code? kerfuffle over Waiting for Superman. Now, according to Diane Ravitch, it's the miracle workers perfidy. Sinners, get ye to your rosary beads ? and fast!

According to Ravitch, writing in a recent New York Times op-ed essay, titled, of course, Waiting for a School Miracle, all these high-powered education reformers, from President Obama to Arne Duncan to Jeb Bush to Michael Bloomberg, are claiming ?miracles? for their reform efforts; and Ravitch is there, a one-woman Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Devil's Advocate, to throw some almighty holy water on the hype fires.

Unfortunately, while accusing these folks of? ?statistical legerdemain,? Ravitch commits the sin of rhetorical tromperie: none of her targets claim anything miraculous. ?I will leave to others the task of sorting out Ravitch's claims about the? accuracy of the reformer's claims, but from the research I've seen so far, nobody's cooking books ? the dispute seems to be one of whether the glass is half full or half empty. And Ravitch proves herself? as good at cherry- and nit-picking as the next guy or gal.

The problem is that slippery rhetoric is as unhelpful as saucy statistics.? In her Times essay Ravitch very clearly cites four speeches (including a press conference) and four schools, ?to illustrate her point that ?the accounts of miracle schools demand closer...

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Ohio Education Gadfly Biweekly

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A friend emailed this morning:? ?Breathtaking."? It was the first of many such emails and phone calls.

They were all referring to our board of education's vote last night (a board I am a member of) to impose a school budget that raises the local property tax levy by 9.8 percent (triple the New York state average) and, by the way, a budget that was soundly rejected ? by a 3 to 1 margin of 18% of registered voters ? at the polls on May 17. As I wrote then, the board overruled the popular will just minutes after the results were in because ? well, because it could (see the ?contingency? law below), 4 to 3. Aside from getting the Tin Ear award for politically dumb moves (the gang of four might have waited a respectable few days, at least, before rubbing their power in the voters' noses), the rush to tyranny revealed a great deal about the board's isolation from its community, not to mention a deafness to some harsh economic realities (it is a poor community with average family income of just over $30,000, and an unemployment rate of about 9 percent). Needless to say, the community roared back, packing the high school cafeteria a few days later, forcing one of the four to change his mind and the board to rescind its previous vote and promise to go back to the drawing board. As I wrote last week, Round 2 had gone to...

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I'm not sure how many of the 200-plus people who packed our cafeteria last night had read Rick Hess' How Supes and Principals Should Not Respond to Tight Budgets, but it was as if Hess were channeling (a new power of his) the room as our supes and principals and teachers and board of ed were taken to the proverbial woodshed by a crowd of angry taxpayers, who said, in no uncertain terms, Get Real! The district (i.e. the administration and board of ed) had tried to pull a fast one last week, hiding behind the skirts of the state's ?contingency? law (the phrase ?this is not the USSR!? was used several times last night, though, unfortunately, in this matter I'm sorry to say the resemblance is a little scary) to impose a property tax levy increase of 9.8 percent, just minutes after voters had rejected that notion by a whopping 3 to 1 margin.? ?This is a democracy!? was shouted numerous times during the hour-long public tongue-lashing. And at some point in the haze of hoorahs and cheers as the board voted to rescind its decision from last week and go back to the drawing board, I felt a whoosh of air behind me and turned to see ? no lie -- Mssr. de Tocqueville, notebook in hand, scurrying from the room?.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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It's school budget voting day in New York. And in my little district, with fewer than 2,000 K?12 students, voters are being asked to approve a $41,249,180 budget, which is a remarkably lean one, considering that it is just .77 more than last year's budget (that's less than one percent).

According to our state school board association (NYSSBA), that's pretty good:

Reflecting the difficult economic times, the average school district spending increase [in the state] would fall for the seventh year in a row?. The average proposed spending increase of 1.3 percent for 2011-12 is lower than the 1.4 percent average this year, the 2.3 percent average in 2009-10, 5.3 percent in 2008-09, 6.1 percent in 2007-08, 6.3 percent in 2006-07, 6.6 percent in 2005-06, and 6.9 percent in 2004-05. The five-year average is 3.9 percent.

Much of the restraint, obviously, is due to the busted economy; in New York, state aid to districts was cut by $1.2 billion.? In our district, if the voters approve the budget, we will be axing 22 teachers, 11 percent of the teaching staff. (New York City thinks it has it bad: Bloomberg's proposed teaching cuts ? 6,100 --? represent only 8 percent of Gotham's teaching force.)

What's not so good ? and if there is a ?burning issue? in my district, this is it ? is the proposed 9.8% local tax levy increase, more than double the increase on the ballot in surrounding districts and nearly three times...

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In another major sign of how far the school reform movement has traveled, New York's Board of Regents today appointed John King, an African American and former managing director of Uncommon Schools, Commissioner of Education. (See my Education Next story on King's key involvement in New York's Race to the Top bid last year.)

King is smart and hardworking and tough on the details.? He'll need all those gifts and more as he takes on the challenges of running a once moribund school system, with the third highest enrollment numbers in the country (2.7 million K?12 students, after California, with 6 million, and Texas, with 4.6 million) and a powerful teachers union.

Good luck, Mr. King.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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Andrew Cuomo is not considered an education reform governor, but the Democratic leader of the Empire State has taken some bold stands in reining in education spending (by a billion bucks) ? even if it was courage born of necessity.? After caving in on Last-in-First-Out (LIFO) in March (see here), the new governor came back on Friday with a letter to the state's Board of Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, asking for a tougher teacher evaluation system than the one the Regents had first proposed -- and which the Regents (having just hired John King as Commissioner (see here), will take up this afternoon.

According to the letter, Cuomo wants the Regents, who answer, officially, to the State Legislature not the Governor, to make ?comprehensive changes? to the evaluation plan, including:

? Increase the percentage of statewide objective data, like measuring student growth on statewide test scores, used to evaluate teacher performance;

? Impose rigorous classroom observation and other subjective measures standards on school districts when evaluating teacher performance;

? Require a positive teacher evaluation rating be given only when the teacher receives a combined positive rating on both subjective and objective measures, such as student growth on statewide tests; and,

? Accelerate the implementation of the evaluation system.

Though the devil is in the details, which Cuomo provides in his letter, there seems little doubt, as the Albany Times Union put it, ?that the letter puts him ?on course for clash...

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