Governance

The tough letter that senior House Republicans sent last week to Arne Duncan and Eric Holder should have been even tougher. For the “guidance” that their agencies issued to U.S. schools in the guise of improving school discipline can only make it harder for educators to create safe, serious, and effective learning environments.

Education Committee chairman John Kline and several colleagues politely wrote that this guidance could “have a chilling effect on teachers and school leaders working to address discipline issues with students; potentially leading to unruly and unsafe classrooms that could adversely affect student learning.”

That’s putting it mildly. University of Colorado political scientist Josh Dunn was blunter “The consequences for schools and particularly for minority students,” he wrote, “will be nothing short of disastrous if actually implemented.”

In the increasingly Orwellian language of our federal government, the “supportive school discipline initiative,” a joint undertaking of the Education and Justice Departments, began in mid-2011. Its declared purpose was “to support the use of school discipline practices that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments while keeping students in school.”

Sounds great, yes? And there’s no denying that some of the advice the feds proffered for “improving school climate” and establishing effective discipline codes is worth following. The “Guiding Principles” document that emerged from the Education Department alone contains some useful if often self-evident suggestions, such as “train all school staff to apply school discipline policies and practices in a fair and equitable manner.”

And if...

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“If the state shackles them [school leaders] with rules and envelops them in mandates even as it cuts their budgets, achievement will inevitably head down, not up.” We penned this sentence three years ago in a report entitled Yearning to Break Free. Though Ohio’s economy—and school funding—is much improved compared to 2011, state lawmakers still haven’t loosened the ties that bind school leaders.

That is why the recent comments by Governor John Kasich grabbed my attention. At the Ohio Newspaper Association convention, Kasich told the audience, “We really need a flexible education system“ and “we need to bring about some deregulation.” Agreed, wholeheartedly— but what does a “flexible” public-school system look like? It hinges on the reform of three policies: licensure, the salary schedule, and collective bargaining. The points that follow outline these policies and where the state should go.

Give schools latitude in hiring

Ohio has raft of regulations related to teacher credentials. They can be found in state law (ORC 3319) and in administrative code (OAC 3301-23 and 3301-24). Generally speaking, the completion of a teacher-prep program and the passage of a standardized exam guarantee licensure. These have proven to be woefully mediocre requirements. Teacher-prep programs will admit practically anyone, regardless of academic accomplishment, and the quality of these programs is spotty at best. Meanwhile, the assessment requirement is worse—something of a joke—as virtually everyone passes it.[1]

Licensure does set a minimal threshold for entering teaching. It surely keeps...

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If you want to understand why supporters of the Common Core are frustrated—OK, exasperated—by some of our opponents’ seemingly unlimited willingness to engage in dishonest debate, consider this latest episode.

On Monday, EAG News published an article entitled, “...

The seventh installment of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook, which analyzes and grades state policies bearing on teacher quality, struck a guardedly optimistic tone. Between 2011 and 2013, thirty-one states strengthened their policies on teacher-...

As the number of chronically underperforming school districts continues to climb, some states are beginning to take control through Extraordinary Authority Districts (EADs). With lessons garnered from five that have employed various forms of EADs (Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan...

In the midst of short-term and mostly small-scale snapshots measuring charter quality, this new Mathematica study brings a more panoramic portrait. Using longitudinal data, the authors sought to determine whether charter-school enrollment is indeed related to student success. As studies based on...

Rethinking Education Governance Lunchtime Keynote: Chris Cerf

During this lunchtime lecture, New Jersey Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf will discuss his thoughts on how to improve our current education-governance structure, drawing from his experiences as deputy chancellor of New York City Department of Education, his current role at the New Jersey Department of Education, and his time working for the federal government.

** We had some technical difficulties during the Q&A which is why the video is out of focus. We apologize for any inconvenience.

As the number of chronically underperforming school districts continues to climb, some states are beginning to take control through Extraordinary Authority Districts (EADs). With lessons garnered from five that have employed various forms of EADs (Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Tennessee), this publication from America Achieves and Public Impact provides a how-to guide for any state considering an EAD. It’s organized into a four-part framework. First, the authors address the political and legislative context in which EADs should operate, noting that EADs need the legal authority to fully take over schools and/or  districts. To minimize conflict, they also recommend building strategic relationships with local nonprofits and creating an open dialogue within the community. Second, they outline three strategies that EADs could use to operate their takeover schools: issue charters or charter-like contracts to external operators; run schools themselves, hiring a teachers and school leaders and giving them charter-like authority; and running schools directly, using their own school model built and/or managed by the EAD. When deciding which model to employ, states should consider how many schools an EAD can effectively manage and whether it can hire sufficient talent. Third, the authors note that EADs must also take on the “office role”—controlling schools’ finances, communications, testing and accountability, and so on—and offer suggestions on how to structure these responsibilities. Fourth, they stress the importance of assembling a strong core team and hiring a top-notch leader. In the end, though EADs are a very new strategy for turning around floundering schools and...

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The fancy-footwork edition

Mike welcomes Ohio's Chad to the podcast to disparage teacher tenure, anguish over the charter assault in Gotham, and debate the realities for charter schools in rural areas. Amber finds value in growth measures.

Amber's Research Minute

Choosing the Right Growth Measure,” by Mark Ehlert, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons and Michael Podgursky, Education Next 14(2).

The Smack-Talk Edition

Kathleen and Mike talk Richard Sherman–level smack in this special video edition of the podcast. They tackle Core Knowledge, Rick Hess’s nasty-gram, and Florida’s Common Core two-step. Amber measures teacher-performance trajectories.

Amber's Research Minute

Teacher Performance Trajectories in High and Lower-Poverty Schools,” by Zeyu Xu, Umet Özek, and Michael Hansen, Working Paper 101 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research, July 2013).

American Girls, the Common Core, and everything in between

Mike and American Girl Michelle tackle accountability in private-school-choice programs, whether people are more likely to favor reform once they know how mediocre their schools are, and how applying “disparate impact theory” to the enforcement of school-discipline rules will lead to nothing but trouble. Amber incentivizes us to learn more about teacher-transfer incentives.

Amber's Research Minute

Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers: Final Results from a Multisite Randomized Experiment by Steven Glazerman, et al., (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research and Institute of Education Sciences, November 2013).

For the first time since 1989, all twelve of Congress’s annual spending bills have been rolled into one 1,600-page, $1.012 trillion “omnibus” package—and it’s tearing across Capitol Hill “like a greased pig,” going from introduction on Monday night to passage by the House on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to approve the bill on Friday, and it will land on President Obama’s desk before stopgap funding runs out on Saturday. It contains significant increases for pre-K ($8.6 billion for Head Start, $1 billion more than its current allotment and $612 million over its pre-sequestration level). However, the School Improvement Grant program will not see its funding restored to its high-water mark, remaining at its pared-down $505 million (though that’s still $505 million too much).

Representative George Miller—a leading Democratic voice on education and a crafter of NCLB—has announced that he will be giving up his seat on the House education committee in favor of an armchair. Hat tip to a fine career. In other news, Senator Chuck Schumer is looking for a new roommate: must love cold cereal and rats.

StudentsFirst released its second annual policy report card on Tuesday. Once again, Florida and Louisiana took home top marks (B-minuses—StudentsFirst certainly doesn’t grade on a curve), earning their ranks by ending teacher tenure, implementing merit pay, and issuing school report cards.

With New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s rhetoric suggesting that “city schools had little to...

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Because of Kansas City Public Schools’ (KCPS) persistent underperformance, the state is contemplating taking over the district. They engaged CEE-Trust and Public Impact (organizations I admire and have worked with) to produce a plan.

What they’ve come up with is revolutionary. Should the state board of education adopt it, Kansas City will soon rival New Orleans as the most exciting and important city for K–12 education.

I’ve now read the entirety of the nearly 80-page report, and I’m impressed. It’s a document informed by the best thinking on systemic reform over the last two decades. You can see Chubb and Moe, Paul Hill, Ted Kolderie, and Neerav Kingsland in its pages. And that’s a delight.

While the report argues for some traditional interventions—namely, higher teacher salaries, more expansive pre-K, and greater wrap-around services—those pale in comparison to its main thrust.

Over decades, there have been countless state takeovers of districts across the nation, and they’ve all failed to bring about the dramatic improvement needed. That’s because they’ve all kept in place the failed district structure.

The traditional state takeover just installs a new, state-hired superintendent and removes governance authority from a locally elected board. The district’s position as the dominant, default operator of schools is preserved. 

The report’s recommendations address that fundamental problem. In its own words, “Our conclusion is that it’s not the people in the system that’s the problem; it’s the system itself.”

The report makes the case for ending the district.

“Simply put, the traditional urban school...

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This year, Education Week’s Quality Counts report tells a story of districts facing formidable pressures, both external (such as budgetary and performance woes) and internal (demographic shifts), as well as a maturing market of expanded school options—and how this competitive environment is leading to governance change. Ed Week overhauled its long-running State of the States comparisons, paring its sets of indicators down to three: the (still-questionable) Chance-for-Success Index; the K–12 Achievement Index; and school finance. (No longer do they include standards, assessment, and accountability; the teaching profession; or transitions and alignment.) For the rundown of states at the top and bottom of the class, be sure to check out the results online—and a nifty interactive report card, which allows readers to recalculate grades using their own weights. But of particular interest is a survey analysis of the increasingly complex district governance landscapes—thanks to the rise of educational management and charter organizations and with the use of portfolio strategies in cities like Denver. Almost 80 percent of the national sample of district administrators queried agreed with the statement that “accountability pressures and technology shifts have led them to consider changes,” while 54 percent agreed that school systems need to make significant governance or structural changes. When asked about whether they think merging high- and low-poverty districts or implementing a state-led turnaround (or turnaround school district) strategy would work, the respondents seemed more optimistic about the former.

SOURCE: Education Week, Quality Counts 2014: District Disruption & Revival...

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