Board's Eye View

First thing in my email inbox this morning was an “Advocacy Alert” from the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA): It was the “2012 Resolution Kit,” a kickoff notice to get the wheels rolling so that NYSSBA presents a united front in lobbying the state legislature. This was a rather tame “alert,” as these things go. Others have had a Whitney Tilson quality: “Free the Schools!” or “Full Court Press!” or “Mandate Relief? Give us a break!”

Like many such organizations, NYSSBA can be wordy and bureaucratic, but I was happy to see that this year’s kit included a statement that “the Association currently lacks resolutions addressing some of public education's most pressing issues” and that “examples of issues that lack the support or opposition of a NYSSBA resolution are:

  • How the state will address the rising costs of energy and health care and the impact on local taxes.
  • Whether or not charter schools should be allowed to join NYSSBA or receive NYSSBA services.
This resolution signals a major move forward on the part of an organization that tends to be resolutely establishment.

The second resolution signals a major move forward on the part of an organization that tends to be resolutely establishment (for all the reasons that reform critics have cited) and gives me some hope that organizations like NYSSBA can become leaders of school improvement. (See Adam’s Choice Words post on National School Boards Association executive director Anne Bryant’s strident critique of virtual...

John Chubb is CEO of Leeds Global Partners and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution where he is a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He is co-author with Terry Moe of Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education and author of "Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning."

If a public school student wants to take an Advanced Placement course from Apex Learning, a respected provider of online AP instruction, who should determine whether the student may do so? Today, the answer is almost uniformly, the local school board (or charter board) that governs the student’s school. Should it be so?

States have long delegated to local boards the authority to determine how students satisfy state standards such as graduation requirements. If a student wants to meet a state standard by some means other than what his or her school is offering, local board policies determine whether the student may. This makes a certain amount of sense. Students and families may want an option of dubious academic value.

But boards may decide these matters with more on their minds than quality control. Every time a student opts to receive a bit of education outside of a home school, the school or district faces a financial hit: it loses state revenue or gets stuck with a fee. Local boards consequently are not keen for students to try to...

As was widely reported (see here, here, and here) Jeb Bush endorsed Mitt Romney yesterday.

The Times called it a “coveted endorsement”—and indeed it is, no matter how much fun Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich had at poor Eric Fehrnstrom’s expense. (For the record, that same day Fehrnstrom, a longtime Romney advisor, gave a televised interview in which he said “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign…. Everything changes [when he’s running against Obama]. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”)

Shake It, Start Over
Jeb Bush, who has been a tireless education reformer since the mid-nineties, is no Etch A Sketch.
Photo by Rex Sorgatz.

Jeb Bush, who has been a tireless education reformer since the mid-nineties, is no Etch A Sketch. And by coincidence I was lucky enough to spend some time with the popular two-term Florida governor (1999—2007) just last week as part Education Next’s “Conversation” series with important education reformers (see my conversations with John White, Whitney Tilson, and Chris Cerf). You can read a summary of what he accomplished in Florida here; examples include instituting an A—F school grading system, ending social promotion, rewarding school success with both...

John Kirtley
Chairman of Step Up for Students


Guest blogger John Kirtley is the founder of two private equity firms in Tampa, FL. He is the chairman of Step Up For Students, a non-profit that administers the tax credit scholarship program and which now empowers the parents of nearly 40,000 low income Florida children who attend a private school of their choice, and of the Florida Federation for Children, a "527" political organization active in Florida legislative races. He is vice chair of the American Federation For Children, a national parental choice advocacy organization, and also a board member of the Florida Charter School Alliance and the Hillsborough County (Tampa) Education Foundation.

The most important governance question is: “Will low income and working class parents truly direct the taxpayer dollars used to educate their children?”

The definition of “public education” is changing rapidly, even if some don’t want it to. It used to mean giving taxpayer dollars solely to districts to operate all schools, where kids are assigned by zip code. The emerging definition, which I prefer, is using taxpayer dollars to educate children in the best way possible for each of them, using a variety of providers and delivery methods.

Parents with enough means already direct dollars—their own—to the best education providers for their kids. Parents with means move to neighborhoods with good public schools, or pay tuition for a private school. Increasingly, these parents combine delivery methods and providers. The president...

Harold Kwalwasser

Harold Kwalwasser was the General Counsel of the Los Angeles Unified School District from 2000-2003. Previously, he had served in the Clinton Administration and as a senior staffer in the California State Senate and the United States Congress. He currently writes and consults on education issues. In 2009-10, he visited 40 high performing and transforming school districts to see what is working in American education as part of his research for his book, Renewal, Remaking America's Schools for the 21st Century, which has just been published by Rowman and Littlefield.

The BIG Question: What’s the most important governance issue?

We have spent most of the last three years watching Congress contemplate reauthorizing No Child Left Behind.

That contemplation has involved endless discussions of all sorts of issues and ideologies, but it has missed what may be the most important question in American public education today: Can we trust school districts to deliver the kind of education we want for our kids?

Does trust matter? Absolutely.

There are two indisputable facts that underscore the importance of trust. On the one hand, there are absolutely terrific districts in this country. They are so good and so effective at teaching every child, including minority children and English language learners, that the only sensible answer is to get out of the way and let them do what they are doing. Typical federal and state policy options, like categorical spending restrictions or directives about how to fix failing schools, dictated from afar are...

Guest blogger Neerav Kingsland is the chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans. In this post, originally published on the Title I-Derland blog, he explains the lessons education reformers can learn from Europe's transition away from communism.

Andre Shleifer, a professor of Economics at Harvard, recently wrote an excellent article: “Seven Things I Learned About Transition from Communism.” In case you don’t know Andre, some consider him to be the most cited economist in the world.

The analysis is interesting throughout—it deviates from both
“progressive” and “conservative” talking points on key issues. Take five
minutes and read the whole thing.

For those of us Relinquishers
who see opportunity in moving public schooling from government-operated
to government-regulated and non-profit run, lessons abound. For those
skeptical of these types of reforms—lessons also abound. See below for
the summary of Andrei’s lessons—laced with my takeaways for improving
our educational system:

Lesson 1: “First, in all countries in Eastern Europe
and the former Soviet Union, economic activity shrunk at the beginning
of transition, in some very sharply.”

Education Takeaway: Underperforming government
institutions with decades of accumulated knowledge may outperform
cohorts of start-up enterprises in their early years. Could this explain
the poor results of the CREDO study?

Lesson 2: “Second, the decline was not permanent. Following these declines, recovery and...

The big news last week was the release
of data
by the U.S. Department of Education showing that, as the press
release stated,

Minority students across America face harsher discipline,
have less access to rigorous high school curricula, and are more often taught
by lower-paid and less experienced teachers, according to the U.S. Department
of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The report, part of the annual Civil Rights Data Collection
(CRDC) survey, included data from 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the
nation’s students and found, among other things, that black male students “are
far more likely to be suspended than their peers.” In fact, it reported, though
black students make up 18 percent of the students in the sample, they accounted
for 35 percent of the students suspended once and 39 percent of the students
expelled.

When I read this, I yawned. 
It matches perfectly the statistics in my school district.

When I read this, I yawned. 
It matches perfectly the statistics in my school district.  But just as my district pays little attention
to the academic environment that these “bad” kids swim in, so too the ensuing national
melee over OCR data didn’t mention curricula and teachers.  Everyone wanted to talk about “discipline” practices,
school “safety” and “racism.” 

Wrote Jason Riley in the Wall
Street Journal
,

The Obama administration's sympathies are with the...

In part
1
of my New York City
teacher evaluation commentary, I explained the judicial decision which
determined that the public had a right to know how individual teachers were
doing. Most tellingly, perhaps, was Judge Kern’s dismissal of the argument that
flaws in the data mattered to her decision. Referring to a previous ruling by the
state’s highest court, Kern said, “there is no requirement that data be
reliable for it to be disclosed.”

We have to do this in public, a welcome window-opening
in a system of baroque halls and closets.

This means that we have to do this in public, a welcome window-opening
in a system of baroque halls and closets. The New York Times, one of
the media outlets that had sued to gain access to the Teacher Data Reportshan
(TDR), made
the data available
and issued an
invitation
to teachers to “respond to your data report.”

In fact, surprising many, Michael
Winerip
, the On Education
columnist for the Times and normally
no friend to education reform, had it about right:

At first, when I
heard that news organizations were going to publish the list, I was angry, but
that has passed. Good has come of this. People have been forced to stop and
think about how it would feel to be summed up as a 47, and then have the whole
...

Everyone predicted that Justice
Cynthia Kern’s ruling
last January to allow the release of the value-added
scores for New York City teachers—with the teachers’ names—would set off a
firestorm when the names were released (which is what
happened
when Los Angeles did the same thing in 2010). And it did.

“Teachers will be right in feeling assaulted and compromised,” declared
Merryl Tisch
, chancellor of New York
State’s Board of Regents, just after New York City released
some 18,000 teacher evaluations to the public last week.

“The arrogance of some people to say that the parents don't
have the ability to look at numbers and put them in context and to make
decisions is just astounding to me,”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg shot back
. “This is about our kids' lives. This is
not about anything else.”

It is possible that in a different era, a court might very well have
concluded that releasing teachers’ names was quite insane.

That pretty much set the tone for the debate: another assault on
teachers versus the public’s right to know. And it turns out that the best
window on to the question is the January 11 New York State Supreme Court decision
itself, a sleek nine pages in which Judge Kern said her only job was to decide
whether the city education department’s decision to release the teachers’ names
with the Teacher Data...

In another life, I was a crime writer. True crime. I’ve
interviewed 14-year-old murderers and 15-year-old rapists, written books about
college graduates who commit murder, about lowlife “woodchucks” who do the
same. And anyone who has ever sat in a kitchen with a mother whose 12-year-old daughter was stabbed to death or sat alone in a room trying to recreate
these gruesome scenes on paper—well, this is why I left the field and did not
look back.

But my heart goes out to the parents, family, and friends of
the victims of the Chardon,
Ohio, shooting
. And to school personnel at Chardon High School—this is when
you earn your angel wings.

Everyone is asking themselves, How can we know?

I know that educators all over the country are now huddling
with their school security officers and school counselors and social workers. They
are reviewing their building entry and lock-down procedures and reviewing the
student suspension files, to look again at the records of children who may have
been kicked out of school for carrying a weapon or threatening to harm someone
or—or what? Everyone is asking themselves, How can we know?

The answer is that we can’t. But what we might consider
trying, as the next few sorrowful days unfold, is resolving to get to know our
children, whether we are a parent, friend, or teacher. When we are able to look
into...

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