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November 02, 2009
The New York Times is on a roll with its education coverage, today reporting on everything from Obama in Boston to Rick Scott in Florida and rich schools in Bronxville.? And though I got slapped on the wrist yesterday by John Thompson for tweaking the purveyor of ?the best journalism in the world,? it is precisely because they are the best (according to Thompson, of course) that we watch them ? and, occasionally, critique them.
Florida Moves Teacher Bill Forward. It looks like new Sunshine state governor Rick Scott will right the wrong of his predecessor Charlie Crist, who vetoed a pioneering teacher evaluation reform bill last year ? what Andy Smarick called ?the most disappointing education policy decision by a major Republican officeholder in recent memory.?? The revived and revised bill, introduced by Florida legislator Erik Fresen, would link teacher evaluations to student performance, put new teachers on one-year contracts, and institute an evaluation system that would determine raises and firings. ??We are under siege,? the head of one teacher union told the Times. Yup. And it may be time for besieged teacher unions to start thinking of the besieged students who can't read or write.
A Merger in Memphis.? Voters in Memphis decided by a large margin on Tuesday to hand over the reins of their ?103,000-student public school system to their smaller -- ?47,000 students ? suburban neighbor in Shelby County, ?effectively,? as the Times reports, ?putting an end to the city school system.?? The two systems already had a complicated financial relationship, with county residents kicking in extra funds to help finance the poorer city schools, and last December the city school board voted to dissolve itself.? The question is whether this signals the beginning of major mergers of school districts.
Obama Cheerleads in Boston.? Okay, so it's photo-op time for the President, who traveled to the tea party city with Melinda Gates to tout TechBoston Academy.? I have my doubts about putting technology before the horse, but I can't quibble with a guy whose mother woke him up at 4 in the morning to study, when he says, ?there is no better economic policy than one that produces more graduates with the skills necessary to succeed.?
New Strategy for Failing Schools. One of the most underappreciated accomplishments of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's makeover of New York City's schools is his ability to make the one-million student system seem as nimble as a district of a couple thousand kids. His critics have complained that he and his reform chancellor Joel Klein changed course several times, showing their fickleness.? But that, in fact, was part of the point of mayoral control: if it's broken on Wednesday, fix it on Thursday. This story illustrates that responsiveness quite well, as Times reporter Fernanda Santos explains how Green Dot founder ?Steve ?we're going to do it one way or the other? Barr is being welcomed into the Gotham schools fold (with all due respect to Gotham Schools, the best big city education reporting team in the country) as a turnaround specialist.? It was Barr, a charter school enforcer from California, who invented the alternative to closing bad schools.? He made his turnaround strategy work, famously, in L.A.? Kudos to Bloomberg for recognizing the downside of school closures and bringing? in Barr as neighborhood peacemaker.
Oh, Yes, How the Other Half Educates. ?Okay, so you may have to dispense with teaching Mandarin in sixth grade.? Should we feel sorry for the financial worries of the residents of Bronxville, one of New York City's wealthiest suburbs?? Most family incomes in Bronxville, says the Times, are in the six ? and seven! ? figures. And one of the fellows who lives there says he pays $50,000 a year in property taxes, much of which goes to educating the Bronxville Union Free School District's 1526 students (zero percent Free and Reduced Lunch), who can join the golf, lacrosse or skiing teams, or have Steak and Cheese Quesadilla w/ Fresh Tomato Salsa in the Bronco Cafe, or take Latin, or a course in French Culture, Civilization and Cinema. ?The question is, Do we sweat with envy or expectation?? We may not get the steak and quesadilla in the real Bronx, but who's stopping schools from teaching French culture?
--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow