Board's Eye View

While the arguments about silver bullets and secret sauces for successful schools continue, I confess fealty to Justice Potter Stewart’s observation about the definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

In fact, I would wager (although I’m no Mitt Romney) that I could walk into any school in America and within 30 minutes, without looking at any data, tell you whether the students in that school are performing well – or poorly. And I’m a novice.

There is no secret sauce except what hardworking teachers, administrators, and students create.

During the last month I have been visiting high performing high schools in Ohio – high performing poor students—for an upcoming “needles in a haystack” report for Fordham’s Ohio team* (see 2010’s Needles report for a taste of what’s to come) and can confirm Justice Stewart’s aphorism. Success is in the air, the hallways, the offices, the gyms, the cafeterias. It’s on the walls—and probably in the water.  There is no secret sauce except what hardworking teachers, administrators, and students create.

It was thus not surprising to see Roland Fryer’s latest study of charter schools conclude that the key ingredients of success were “increased time, better human capital, more student-level differentiation, frequent use of data to inform instruction, and a culture of high expectations.” (See Jay Greene’s summary of Fryer’s work and Sam Dillon’s in the New York Times story last September.)

A culture of high expectations – that is what teachers and students...

'Twas the day before the State of the Union, and all through the House, not an educator was stirring, not even a teacher union louse...

We shall see tomorrow night, but this is already looking to be the Year of the Education Governor. With NCLB being pummeled from left and right
and Race to the Top in suspended inanimation, the feds seem unusually quiet, if
not on the run.

In an essay this morning in The
Hill,
Juan
Williams
, who is hosting a new video documentary about how Chicago mayor
Rahm Emanuel is “risking his political life by fighting the city’s teachers’
union to improve schools,” says “there is little urgency [about education
reform] in the halls of Congress.”

And New York Times education columnist Michael
Winerip
, also this morning, calls attention to the incredibly difficult
work of figuring out how to evaluate the 175,000 teachers in New York State,
79 percent of the state's total teacher population, who will be subject to the new RTTT-driven
rules. He points out that the state education department, its budget slashed by
40 percent in the last few years, won’t be able to do much, according to state
commissioner John King, except “provide guidance and models.” Concludes
Winerip, “the ultimate responsibility for monitoring would be left to
principals, superintendents and school boards.”

Kathleen explored the
implementation challenges
for the Common Core last...

It was a bit like watching tag-team wrestling. The governor of
the nation’s third-largest state public education system and the mayor of the
nation’s largest single school district taking turns body-slamming teacher
unions; governance at its rawest.

First, on January 4 Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a bold State
of the State address
, promised to be the state’s lobbyist for students and “wage
a campaign to put students first and to remind us that the purpose of public
education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy.” 

Then, the next week, Michael Bloomberg delivered an equally
hard-hitting State
of the City address
, his penultimate as mayor of New York City, most of it devoted to
education. He proved, as Crain’s
Business Review
put it, that he was “not resigned to the malaise of a
lame-duck term or the limitations of a constrained budget” and “made clear his
frustrations with the city's teachers' union, which has long resisted reform.”

Indeed, the Bloomberg speech made it clear that Gotham’s three-term mayor was intent on making the
remaking of the city’s public education system his legacy. 

Said Bloomberg:

Nine years ago this month, on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s
birthday, I gave a speech outlining our plans to transform a badly broken
school system. Back then, the graduation rate had been stuck at 50 percent or
...

My friend Staley Keith was telling me about his childhood in North
Carolina – “Jesse country,” he said, “and I don’t mean Jackson.” Staley meant
the North Carolina of Jesse Helms, the outspoken segregationist*** who would
serve five terms in the United States Senate. “Us black kids walked to our
black school every morning and had to go by the white school.  They shouted racial obscenities and
threw rocks at us.”  No fun,
recalled Staley.  But one morning
he woke up to the news that North Carolina schools had to be integrated.  And Staley recalls his first thought,
“We gotta go to school with these m-----r f------rs.” 

To a large extent, much of the story of American education over these
last fifty years is a story of the failure to understand the complexity of our
country’s relationship to race and the deep consequences of integration.  As Jefferson said of
slavery, "[W]e have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor
safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the
other."****

Unfortunately, on the ground, in classrooms all over the country, the
interplay between justice and self-preservation has not had happy results for
African Americans. 

I once asked another friend of mine, an African American, who grew up
in a small northern town, whether, given the choice, he would send his children
to...

That’s the headline above Paul Peterson’s better-than-nifty
essay
on the Ed Next blog.

Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at
Harvard and Executive Editor of Education
Next
(of which I am a contributing editor), uses the Mac the Knife
reference to suggest that loyalties can be bought “for a pittance.” In this
case, it’s the National Education Association (NEA), which can, Peterson
argues,

…collect multi-millions of dollars through a check-off system
that generates revenues directly from teacher paychecks (unless a teacher
specifically objects),” and, a la the
villain of Mac the Knife, “invest in the work of less-advantaged non-profits
that ostensibly have entirely different agendas. Even a little bit of money can
produce a valuable ally somewhere down the line.

It’s a short essay, but is packed with evidence (from the Education Intelligence
Agency
) of NEA’s multi-tentacled reach, from a $250,000 grant to the Great
Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (“which has migrated to the
University of Colorado at Boulder, which received another quarter million in
direct funding,” says Peterson) to $100,000 for Media Matters, “a group that
attacks conservative groups and commentators” and $35,000 for “the
anti-accountability group,” FairTest.

“The list goes on and on,” says Peterson, who suggests keeping it handy
“if one wants to understand the interstices of the debate over school reform.”

What is also problematic about all...

My friend Robert Pondiscio and I went head-to-head in a weeklong
Facebook exchange about poverty and education over the holidays. Part of the
debate was spurred by a draft of his recent Core Knowledge post on “     Student Achievement, Poverty, and 'Toxic Stress.'” It is well-worth a
read.

Robert keyed in on a recent study in the journal Pediatrics that
links “toxic stress” in early childhood to “to a host of bad life outcomes
including poor mental and physical health, and cognitive impairment.” Among the
bad things caused by such stress are those affecting learning capacities. It is
an insight which, Robert argues,

[S]hould have a profound impact on educators and education
policymakers.  At the very least,
understanding the language and concept of exposure to toxic stress should
inform the increasingly acrimonious, dead-end debate about accountability and
resources aimed at the lowest-performing schools and students.
What does this look like in the
trenches, where teachers teach and principals lead?

No one can quibble with the obvious – that a child’s environment has an
impact on his/her learning capacity– and it should be equally obvious that the
more research the better to “inform” the education policy debate. But here’s
the rub: translating studies like the one in Pediatrics into policy ain’t
easy.

It’s not a new rub, of course, and much of the acrimonious debate...

The responses to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent
claim
that he was going to be a lobbyist for public school students because
no one else was reminded me of the old television game show, “What’s My Line?” wherein
a celebrity panel got to quiz three contestants and then guess which one actually
performed the job they all said they performed. In the aftermath of Cuomo's State of the State address, lots folks came clamoring
with their student lobbyist creds. “A-hem,” wrote commenter SLBYRNES on BuffaloNews.Com:

Apparently, the Governor hasn't noticed the work of Citizen
Action and the Alliance
for Quality Education on behalf of children and the community's schools for
well over a decade. Or the District Parent Coordinating Councils, PTAs, etc….  Part of the reason we struggle so hard for
school improvement may be that he hasn't "heard" clearly or loudly
enough about, or from, us. See you next week, Sir. Oh, and we'll be looking for
that 4% and the CFE [Campaign for Education Equity] funding we fought for 12
years, were awarded, and the state reneged on...just saying.

Money seemed to be a theme of many of the protestors, but one of my
favorites was the video retort, which you can watch below, from the president
of the New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA), Tim Kremer, who was
almost as strident as Cuomo:...

Having proved himself the “steamroller” governor that his defrocked
predecessor Eliot Spitzer had promised to be, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
strode into a packed Empire State Plaza auditorium in Albany on Wednesday for
his second State of the State address to rousing applause and, perhaps taking a
page from Fordham’s Rethinking
Education Governance
initiative (which Board's Eye View will be doing a
lot of thinking about), proposed a “reimagining” of state government that
was credible.

His hour-long speech may have been short on specifics, but it was long on
principals that promise to make a difference and masterful in its rhetorical
and political flourishes. Much of the applause came from a state legislature
that the gifted politician – who grew up in
politics and was a senior aide to his popular two-term governor father, Mario, before he turned 30 – rescued from laughingstock status – he got
the dysfunctional body to close a $10 billion budget gap and deliver it on
time, pass a same-sex marriage law, and new ethics laws, and in the process
earned a national reputation and whispers about a 2016  presidential bid. In a wonderful flourish, showing
his command of the stage, Cuomo had the State Senate and Assembly stand to
receive public congratulations. Who wudda thunkit?

So, with last year’s track record firmly in hand and with few doubts
about Cuomo’s ability to make things...

Amidst lots of recent drama about teacher evaluations (e.g. New York’s
Commissioner of Education has withheld
funds
to nearly a dozen school districts (including more than 30
high need schools in New York City
) that didn’t complete their teacher
evaluation agreements with the local teacher unions, TFA founder Wendy Kopp and
NEA president Dennis Van Roekel joining hands in a USA
Today essay

(an
essay that has befuddled Diane
Ravitch
), the Connecticut Education Association releasing a
teacher evaluation reform package
, New York state’s largest teacher union
unveiling a 95-page Teacher
Evaluation and Development Handbook
, and news
from New Jersey
that teacher tenure may be ended in the Garden State this
year) came a wonderful report by Sam Dillon in the New York Times: In
Washington Large Rewards In Teacher Pay
.

Dillon explains how D.C.’s much watched Impact
...

Welcome to Board’s Eye View. The blog name comes from my
location at ground zero of educational governance: member of the board of
education. Though I know that some see such boards as a shredded remnant of the
19th century, they remain, 14,000-plus strong, the default governance clutch of
the 21st century American public school engine. Love ‘em or leave ‘em—they are
in the driver’s seat. Endangered species or albatross, to change metaphors,
school boards pose the central question for America’s education future: Do “the
people” dictate education policy? And if so, how?

I first ran for school board in the late 1990s. It was a treat, since I had
not run for anything since high school.  Some of the old political instincts returned and I won. But I
soon learned that it was more like high school than anything I’d seen in the
adult world and I resigned after just six months, head spinning. (I recounted my
experience for Education
Next
,
(called “A Board’s Eye View”) in 2005.)  

Seven years later, when I noticed that there were no official candidates on
the school board election ballot—a new low in our little district’s slide to
dysfunction—I decided that I had a chance to make amends for my quitting ways
and mounted a stealth email campaign: I won again, with 92 write-in votes, a
shock to a board that had not moved...

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