Governance

Following the Tony Bennett flap, the A-to-F school-grading systems that Bennett championed are themselves under the gun. Some have argued in favor of increasing the number of measures upon which schools are graded, reflecting the variety of grades that parents see their children bring home from school every year. But at what point will more information become too much information? For a great discussion, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

After announcing its plans to withdraw from both Common Core–assessment consortia, Pennsylvania has clarified that it will in fact remain a member of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced—it just won’t be using either test. “Huh,” you say? The nominal difference means that the Keystone State will retain the right to “participate” in each group’s discussions.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Robert Samuelson argued that the fiscal crisis facing state and local governments can be boiled down to the clash of two interests: schools versus nursing homes. Samuelson characterized the impending pension crisis as a “prolonged squeeze” from retirement commitments to public employees, while we call it the “big squeeze” in our series of reports on retirement costs of teachers....

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The Washington Post profiled Josh Powell, a homeschooled young man, who—having never written an essay or learned that South Africa was a country—had to take several years of remedial classes at a community college to get back on track with his peers. Citing worry for his eleven younger siblings, all still being homeschooled by their parents, young Mr. Powell (now a Georgetown undergrad) urges that homeschooling to be subject to accountability. But just what kind of accountability? That’s a tricky question. This is a fascinating case—and a very touchy subject.

There’s a waiting list of about 1,000 students who want to take part in Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which currently allows 2,000 youngsters to shop around for courses, virtual and otherwise, that are not offered in their home school. State Superintendent John White says that 100 applications pile in every day and that, to accommodate everybody, he’ll have to scrounge for money. The state Supreme Court has already ruled that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits. White estimates that he’ll need another $1.5 million just to meet the current demand.

After reaching a long-awaited teachers’ contract in April, Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top grant, awarded in 2010, has finally been cleared of its “high-risk” label. Essentially, this means that the state will no longer have to endure stricter reporting requirements—and, as noted by Education Week, it is a big confidence boost as the...

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Chuck Edwards

With the passage of the House GOP’s version of the ESEA reauthorization, we have begun to see more public protest against one its key provisions: repeal of Title I’s longstanding maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement, which—in its current form—mandates that school districts each year spend state and local resources equivalent to 90 percent of the previous year’s level or suffer a proportionate cut in their ESEA grants.

Despite House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline’s (R-Minnesota) years-long campaign against MOE, I so far have seen only tepid opposition from the left. (The Center for American Progress has been on the issue for a while.) But MOE featured prominently in the Obama administration’s recent veto threat, which warned that elimination of MOE “could reduce overall investment in public education.” Perhaps this will spark more attention—but the game is not worth the candle. MOE’s teeth were pulled in 1981 by Ronald Reagan. In its modern form, MOE simply can’t do what its advocates say it will do—i.e., maintain a consistent level of state and local investment in education. And, at least in the current political climate, there is no real chance of restoring its bite.

The history

Enacted as part of the original ESEA back in 1965, MOE was one of the original Title I provisions designed to ensure equitable funding for poor kids. To see what MOE was actually intended to achieve, it is helpful to step back in time and review the poisonous...

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Few can deny that Washington and many a state capital are gridlocked today by political partisanship, posturing, and peevishness. Tons of problems aren’t getting solved or attended to because elected officials find themselves unable to reach common ground and have forgotten the art of compromise.

Congress
Washington and many a state capital are gridlocked today by political partisanship, posturing, and peevishness.
Photo by VinothChandar

The highest-visibility version of this takes the form of Republicans and Democrats glaring at each other. Sometimes, however, the main friction is within a party, mostly when strong-willed ideologues on either party’s fringe make trouble for its centrists. All this is exacerbated by the twenty-four-hour news cycle, by everybody’s ability to tweet or blog or otherwise scream in unfiltered fashion what’s on their mind, and by recent redistrictings of legislative and Congressional seats, as well as the proclivity of Americans nowadays to move into politically homogeneous communities. When either party locks up a district or Senate seat, all the political action moves into the primaries, hence into duels within parties, erasing all incentive to negotiate across party lines in order to get anything accomplished. “Avoiding a primary challenge” generally translates into “never compromise with the other team.”

Deal making used to be the norm in legislative bodies....

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StudentsFirst has made a thoughtful contribution to the burgeoning literature on school governance with its new policy brief Change the Leadership, Change the Rules: Improving Schools and Districts through Mayoral and State Governance. In it, the group argues that school boards have been largely ineffective in urban areas and examines two main alternatives: mayoral control and state control—the latter preferably via the “recovery district” model. It’s a short and snappy synopsis.

The Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project has produced another worthy read: Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education is organized around three theses: inequality is on the rise against a backdrop of low social mobility; the U.S. is experiencing a growing divide in educational investments and outcomes based on family income; and education and smart interventions can help—such as those outlined in Caroline Hoxby’s Expanding College Opportunities project and Ben Castleman’s Summer Melt study. While the facts themselves are not new, the report offers an accessible and logical assemblage. Dig in!

On Monday, Michigan governor Rick Snyder chose finance expert Jack Martin to succeed Roy Roberts as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Martin enters the ring with four decades of private- and public-sector experience under his belt, including stints as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education and emergency manager of Highland Park Schools (another troubled school district in the Detroit metro area). What’s more, he is himself a DPS graduate. Martin is surely well credentialed and...

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My friend Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s longtime education reporter and columnist, has a spectacular history of identifying and profiling great teachers, including but not limited to Jaime Escalante, David Levin, Mike Feinberg, and Rafe Esquith. He is right to find and laud them. His latest tribute to Esquith and Esquith’s newest book, however, turns into another Common Core slam—and another example of idiotic professional development (inflicted, apparently, by some “presenter” on teachers during a “training” at Esquith’s school in Los Angeles). Ugh. Yuck. Sorry about that.

Praise the exception, but remember the rule
Without good policy, we end up with a series of workarounds intended to make a sluggish horse run faster.
Photo by Eduardo Amorim

But there’s an enormous underlying problem that Mathews understands full well, though he doesn’t mention it in this particular column: If American K–12 education contained three million Esquiths and Escalantes, we wouldn’t need Common Core or NCLB or KIPP or choice or value-added teacher evaluations or anything else. But it doesn’t. And it isn’t going to anytime soon. (For starters, as the NCTQ recently documented, even those with promise have miserable preparation programs inflicted upon them.) So we end up with a series of workarounds, must-dos, and compensatory arrangements intended to...

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A first look at the most important education news from this weekend and today:

Fordham's latest

"Be all you can be and become a board member," by Miles Caunin, J.D., Ohio Gadfly Daily

The latest issue of the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics’s annual report on the well-being of America’s children is out, with mostly positive findings. (Inside School Research)

Today, Jack Martin—a finance expert—will replace Roy Roberts as emergency manager of the troubled Detroit Public Schools. (Detroit News)

The Boston School Department refused to release teacher-evaluation ratings to the Boston Globe.

Officials in South Carolina plan to expand the online course offerings of the state’s virtual school. (Digital Education)

In an editorial, the New York Times argues that testing has become overemphasized and that we ought to pay more attention to teacher preparation and implementing the Common Core; the piece also contends that Congress ought to retool school evaluations by adding some weight to indicators other than test scores....

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The charter school movement has inspired a lot of enthusiasm for multi-school networks and their ability to expand, but now it’s time to talk more about how these networks are governed.

Ben Gamla Charter School Clearwater
Why is the successful Ben Gamla Charter closing its doors after one year?
Photo from the Jewish Press of Pinella County

To be sure, it’s less exciting to talk about the configuration and operation of governing boards than it is to talk about scaling up successful charter school models. But this much is true: It’s no fun dissecting the breakdown in governance that has led to a charter school’s closure.

That’s the current reality in Clearwater, Florida. There, the Ben Gamla Charter School is closing its doors after one year of operation not because it performed poorly (most of its fifty students scored well on the state assessment) or because of financial problems (it was thousands of dollars in the black) but because it wrested too much control from its parent foundation.

The National Ben Gamla Charter School Foundation said as much. The South Florida–based foundation has opened eight Hebrew-immersion charter schools throughout the Sunshine State in the last six years, and members of its own board often have overseen the operations and spending at these schools. The foundation installed a board...

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Traditional school districts and public charter schools are often positioned as competitors, rivals, even enemies. But must they? In February 2010, the Gates Foundation established the District-Charter Collaboration Compact initiative to promote peace and join these two forces in the real battle: improving educational outcomes. This interim report—naught more than a status update, but instructional nonetheless—documents these efforts to date. Sixteen cities participated in the first round, sharing things like physical resources, facilities, and instructional best practices and developing a common enrollment system, expedited by $100,000 Gates grants to each community. Progress on Compact commitments (including a special education collaborative in New York and shared professional development in Boston) has been “episodic,” however, rocked by things like leadership transitions (in Chicago, for instance, initial progress made under Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard has slowed since his exit) and local anti-charter sentiment. Still, the update lauds the fact that district leaders in all sixteen cities report improved dialogue. In December 2012, seven of the sixteen communities—Hartford, Denver, New York City, Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch, Texas—were granted additional funds, totaling close to $25 million, to continue the work.

SOURCE: Sarah Yatsko, Elizabeth Cooley Nelson, and Robin Lake, District-Charter Collaboration Compact: Interim Report (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, June 2013).

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