Board's Eye View

Last week the lefties staged a protest against millionaires in New York City.? Tomorrow, a group called the District Parent Coordinating Council is asking kids in Buffalo to stay home from school to protest the terrible education students in the Empire State's second largest city are getting ? and have been receiving for some time. ?With a student population of 47,000, the Queen City also has the state's second largest school district (though far smaller than New York City's 1.2 million student system) and has an $800 million budget, money worth fighting for.

Unfortunately, according to the district's most recent state report card, the money (some $17,000 per student) doesn't seem to be resulting in much education for the largely poor students: 70% qualify for free and reduced lunch,? 25% get suspended every year, less than 60% graduates, 73% of its eighth-graders are ?below proficient? in English and 74% of them below proficient in math.? Is it any wonder that 18% of its teachers leave every year?

State Deputy Commissioner of Education John King*, who had been managing director of Uncommon Schools before being tapped for New York's number 2 education job (perhaps soon to be #1 ? see here), had visited the district a couple weeks earlier and told its leaders to lock themselves in a room and not come out until they had some solutions.

Well, the leaders came to a public meeting on May 3, but not only didn't they...

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One of the more interesting characteristics of the recent curriculum counter-manifesto was its lead sentence, which had this lovely turn of phrase: we ?oppose the call for a nationalized curriculum.?? Interesting, I thought, since I don't believe anyone at the Shanker Institute called for a nationalized curriculum; they called for a national or common curriculum.? Was this a distinction without a difference? Was Shanker just being "sneaky"?? Not at all ? and I'm sure the writers of the counter-manifesto understand all too well that nationalize is a verb, meaning to do something like Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez might do to oil companies or hotels.

Nice try, guys.

On the other side of the aisle, of course, is the privatization crowd.? Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier have been sharing their worries about billionaire ed reformers conspiring to kill off public schools for a long time and just about anything associated with ?business? draws hizzahs of privatizing public education.? Just the other day, Gail Collins weighed in on the Times op-ed page with a column called Reading, ?Riting and Revenues.? ?Today,? she opines, ?let's take a look at the privatization craze and the conviction that there is nothing about molding young minds that can't be improved by the profit motive.?

Though I would never be one to pooh-pooh a rhetorical flourish or two, there really are times when the language should be used to clarify not confuse.? The word "demogoguery" often comes to mind.? Words...

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In a fascinating study of interest group influence on school board elections, Stanford political scientist Sarah Anzia offers new reasons for dropping special spring school district elections. And, as if on cue (though I don't know that there is any causal relationship), education reform governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana (also a GOP presidential candidate prospect), just signed into law, according to Sean Cavanagh of Ed Week, ?a measure to make major changes to school board elections around his state.?? The change in Indiana would move school board elections (from the spring) to the fall, said Daniels in his recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute, because ?nobody votes? in the spring elections:

It's a lot easier? for an interest group to dominate the outcome and elect a friendly school board in the sparsely attended primary elections. And so now they will have more of the public at least eligible or at least on hand to take part in those elections, we'll see if it makes a difference.

According to Anzia's research, it should make a big difference. In a country with more than 500,000 elected officials, most of whom are not elected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (the so-called regular cycle elections), she finds that school districts ?with off-cycle elections pay experienced teachers over 3 percent more than districts that hold on-cycle elections.?? Not surprisingly, the pay differential increased for the most senior teachers:? those with more than ten years...

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David Brooks had a sobering column in yesterday's Times, warning that America is going soft.? Or, as he puts it, ?the country is becoming less vital and industrious?. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.? Though the essay isn't about education, the lessons apply. Brooks could have written that a fifth of our high schoolers in many places are not getting up and going to school.

Though Brooks's premise lacks nuance ? he attributes our loss of industriousness to the fact that only about 80 percent of American men between ages 25 and 54 are now working, compared to 96 percent in 1954 ? the point is similar to the one that has roiled education for a few decades: our schools have become ?less vital and industrious.? As we all know, our NAEP scores are flat, our SAT scores are flat, our graduation rates, flat ? and worse.

Why that is has, of course, been the source of endless argument among educators and policymakers. (There remains a healthy contingent of educators who deny that those indicators even have validity.)? Brooks attributes the nation's loss of vitality to, in part, the fact that ?more American men lack the emotional and professional skills they would need to contribute.? This would seem to apply to schools, where increasing numbers of children don't have the wherewithal ?to contribute.? ?Could that be because we are not asking them to contribute? ?(Remember the...

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Here we go again.? The newest buzz phrase in education:? deeper thought. Or deep thinking. Or deep learning. Deep is suddenly everywhere. The biggest question for schools experimenting with the common core, discussed in a recent New York Times story by Fernanda Santos, was A Trial Run for School Standards That Encourage Deeper Thought.? There is an upcoming? Alliance for Excellent Education briefing called, A Time for Deeper Learning: Preparing Students for a Changing World. A reader comment on Mike's essay about Alfie Kohn went like this:

?but a place where the structure is so stultifying, and the curriculum so narrowly conceived, that any sort of deeper learning like the kind you'll find at, say, Sidwell Friends, gets strangled at the root.

Another commenter on Mike's story wondered, rhetorically, whether,

? the purpose is the same across race and class ? to engage students in deep thinking and the construction of meaning or to prepare them for tests and their place in the economy?

What happened to 21st century skills? ?Remember critical thinking? I often tell the story of showing the Core Knowledge Foundation's K?8 Sequence (upgraded and available here) to our school district's Curriculum Director, who dismissed it with a huff, ?We're interested in teaching critical thinking.?? ?But what,? I asked, ?will they think critically about??

As my rhetorical question suggests, it's not so much that these concepts are faulty ? who would oppose deep thought or critical thinking, after all?...

According to The Nation, ?thousands of working people, students, seniors, people on public assistance, and community activists? will be descending on Wall Street this Thursday ?to protest ?the city's billionaire mayor's? announced intent to eliminate 6,100 teaching positions (2,000 through attrition and the rest in layoffs).? Not surprisingly, according to the magazine, ?participants include SEIU workers, the United Federation of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America, ACT UP, Code Pink, Greater NYC for Change, Urban Youth Collaborative, the Working Families Party, and many more.? ?See the full list of sponsors at the event organizers website, where you will learn that ?There is no revenue crisis; there is an inequality crisis.? The Big Banks that crashed our economy, destroyed jobs, caused millions to lose their homes, and bankrupted city and state budgets, are reaping record profits?and yet they are refusing to pay their fair share of what it will take to rebuild our economy. From Wisconsin to Wall Street people are fighting back!?

Even if one sympathized with ?these folks' sentiments about the financial ?inequality crisis? or believed for a second or two that it was the big banks that ?crashed our economy,? the question is where the big unions ? and their contrail of sympathizers -- have been during the inequality crisis in education the last thirty years. Their silence in the face of crushing inner city educational failures has been deafening.? Not a single protest, that I know of, during this long inequality crisis.? Unfortunately, the...

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Just in the nick of time, another Teach for America / Joel Klein School of Big City Reform alumnus is heading off to take the reins of a troubled city school district. (John White, a TFA/Klein alum is on his way to New Orleans.) According to the Times, Cami Anderson, all of 39 years old, ?faces the monumental task of rescuing an urban school system [Newark] that has long been mired in low achievement, high turnover and a culture of failure, despite decades of state intervention.? ?Says the WSJ, Anderson ?will attempt to reform the largest and one of the most troubled public school systems in the state.?

She has her work cut out for her.

For an idea of how long Newark has been struggling, see David Skinner's 2006 story in Ed Next. The district was taken over by the State of New Jersey in 1995. (I do hope Anderson considers a new motto for the district: I'm not sure how old it is, but ?Changing hearts and minds to value education? does not quite convey a sense of optimism about the future.)

The Newark job should be somewhat lighter thanks to some serious money from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who, with great fanfare, promised $100 million to the district last fall. ?But the money seems to come ? and it's unclear whether any has come ? with some strings and some questions, including how to leverage it if and when...

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Though I thought the recent Fordham discussion about whether school boards were a ?vital? part of 21st century education was a great one, I would not have singled out Anne Bryant, president of the National School Boards Association, as Mike did in his post, as the newest entrant into ?the pantheon of impatient reformers.?

Mike praises Bryant for taking on the unions and arguing, during the debate, that...

unions buying the school board's seat is just plain wrong. There should be the distinction between management and labor and governance, and management and labor?.? I have to admit that having the kind of situation that Gene [Maeroff, member of the panel, board member of Edison, NJ, and author of a new book on school boards] described to me about the candidates being put up by the union doesn't always get you the best school board members.

Mike's conclusion about these remarks ? that ?similar words could well have been spoken by Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Jeb Bush, or any other dyed-in-the-wool reformer? ? are understandable, in the narrow sense that they indicate Bryant's willingness to take on union power.? But his extrapolation that those words mean that ?school boards continue to be influenced if not actually captured by the unions? and that ?there just might be a fatal flaw with elected local boards? is pushing it.

The fatal flaw here is not ?elected local boards,? but the failure of our policymakers and legislators to ensure the...

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A few days ago Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, founders, according to their official ID, of the 826 National tutoring centers and producers of the documentary ?American Teacher,? wrote an essay for the New York Times titled The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries. (We know that Eggers also happens to be author of the bestseller A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.)? Unfortunately, the headline doesn't do justice to their argument, which is that we have to ?make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates? by, among other things, better training and recruiting ? but the headline also highlights the problem with their analysis: they can't leave the ?low pay? shibboleth alone.

What is refreshing about Eggers and Calegari's approach is that it picks up on some of the more important findings of the recent McKinsey report (released last fall), which was also devoted to the question of attracting and retaining more ? and more better! ? teachers. ?Their summary of McKinsey's findings comparing the treatment of teachers in three high-performing countries ? Finland, Singapore, and South Korea ? ?and is, more or less, apt:

First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don't.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don't.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do. And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when

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According to today's New York Times Chris Christie went to ?the heart of liberal darkness? yesterday ? and kept his cool.? The occasion was a lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Christie was on his best behavior as he praised his audience for being ?among the leaders of our educational future.?

He also admitted to having ?struggled a lot? with the issue of the combative and abrasive language he often uses in talking about education. Apparently, not for long. According to reporter Richard Perez-Pena, Christie ?said he would not change his tone until the teachers' union, the New Jersey Education Association, agreed that schools are in crisis and showed more willingness to make major changes.? Said Christie:

I have to convince the public that the house is on fire.

And he got an ovation from the crowd, according to the report, when he said, ?The reason I'm engaging in this battle with the teachers' union is because it's the only fight worth having.?? That should make the transportation department, parks and recreation, corrections, banking and industry, and the other? state agencies very happy.

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