Governance

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...

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...

The Arctic Vortex edition

Invigorated by the weather, Mike and Dara give cold shoulders to anti-Common Core strategists, California’s constitution, and Randi Weingarten’s “VAM sham.” Amber gets gifted.

Amber's Research Minute

Who Rises to the Top? Early Indicators,” by Harrison J. Kell, David Lubinski, and Camilla P. Benbow, Psychological Science 24 (2013), 2013: 648–59.

Wednesday marked the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of the “War on Poverty.” To mark the milestone, National Review Online published an online symposium with a variety of conservative views about that War’s success and failures—and how best to fight a new War on Poverty going forward. Here are three contributions—by Fordham’s Chester E. Finn, Jr., and Michael J. Petrilli, and the Center of the American Experiment’s Mitchell B. Pearlstein—that focus on education’s role in alleviating poverty.

The "war on poverty" and me

By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Forgive an aging education-reformer’s reminiscences, but LBJ’s declaration...

Cities and states faced with rising pension costs have begun to search for the most effective way to balance retirement promises made to workers with the need for fiscal sustainability and employer flexibility. Most prominently, a federal judge ruled last month that the city of Detroit could declare bankruptcy, opening the door for it to cancel or revise contracts such as those for retiree pensions. In Illinois, another state with a constitutional protection for government-worker pensions, the governor recently signed legislation that would raise the retirement age for mid-career workers and reduce cost-of-living adjustments for all workers who have...

Earlier this week, AFT president Randi Weingarten came out against the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations, citing recent VAM shortcomings in D.C. and Pittsburgh and launching the catchy slogan, “VAM is a sham.” VAM certainly is not perfect. But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us in this week’s Education Gadfly Show, teachers decades ago were concerned about being capriciously fired by principals who didn’t like them, which in turn led to the movement for a more structured and quantifiable teacher-evaluation system. Does Randi want to go back to favoritism? Or simply no accountability at all?

In a fascinating...

A new survey from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice delivers a thorough look at how the public views an array of school-choice issues. The results could surprise even some seasoned policymakers and wonks. After a useful literature review summarizing decades of opinion research on school choice, the author digs into the results of his nationally representative survey: First, respondents were asked whether they support or oppose various forms of school choice, and he found greater public enthusiasm for tax credits and...

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...

Nearly three decades ago, 320 students below the age of thirteen took the SAT math or verbal test and placed in the top 1 in 10,000 for their math- or verbal-reasoning ability (some called them “scary smart”). This article details a twenty-year follow up that analyzes their accomplishments by age 38, with the purpose of determining whether they went on to make outstanding contributions to society. And no surprise, they did. Of the total, 63 percent held advanced degrees, 44 percent of which were doctorates—that’s compared to barely 2 percent of the general population who hold PhDs. These students...

Invigorated by the weather, Mike and Dara give cold shoulders to anti-Common Core strategists, California’s constitution, and Randi Weingarten’s “VAM sham.” Amber gets gifted.

Dara Zeehandelaar, author of The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School District Budgets, explains teachers pensions and the difference between defined benefits and defined contribution plans that states offer teachers.

The results of last November’s election are now being felt within the Columbus City Schools’ Board of Education. In yesterday’s first meeting of the year, the Board swore in and seated two new members, elected a new president and vice-president, extended the contract of Interim Superintendent Dan Good, and simultaneously removed the interim label from Good’s title.

I listened to this meeting on the radio last night, cruising around in a nice warm car waiting for my daughter to finish choir practice. I mistook it for live initially due to the copious amounts of “dead air” at which I laughed…at first.

The most important part of that meeting, I think, was the inauguration speech of freshly-sworn-in President Gary Baker. He warned us at the outset that his remarks wouldn’t be brief, as anyone who knew him could attest that he likes to talk. And talk he did. About the importance of public schools as a civic institution and as the most important aspect of democracy in any city. He noted the immense importance of the job he was about to undertake as president of the board and how excited he was to work with his board colleagues, the superintendent, and the staff of the district to make good on a promise to provide an excellent education for all the students in the district.

But, Baker said, before he could address the future he had to address the past. Specifically, the student data rigging scandal that the district still has...

The first time I drove through Camden, New Jersey, I was shell-shocked.

I was the state’s deputy commissioner of education and was on my way to one of the city’s schools, where Governor Christie was hosting a bill-signing event. I had previously visited one of Camden’s alternative schools, but I had been ferried by a local who, I later figured out, knew the roads inside and out.

I had heard countless stories about Camden’s sad state but hadn’t truly witnessed it during that trip. But the online map provider I used for my first solo journey showed that it knew less about the city than I did. It generated a route that took me on a tour I will never forget.

To that point, the two most tragic cities I’d seen were Detroit and Cleveland. Yes, both have areas that still give the appearance of vibrancy, but venture a bit further out and you see countless deserted buildings and decaying neighborhoods.

Then you see kids.

The cruelty these environs inflict on boys and girls is unspeakable. It’s why I do this work.

But what I saw in Camden was even worse. Entire blocks had fallen apart. The street activity, meager as it was, was unwholesome to say the least. The city felt not just hollow but abandoned.

The worst part was when I finally made my way to a larger thoroughfare and saw a sign indicating that I’d found a “...

Amber loses her marbles

In the first podcast of the year, Mike and Brickman discuss NCLB’s goal of universal proficiency, an error in D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation scores, and the correct pronunciation of Fariña. Amber is no good with marbles—but great at educating us about student mobility.

Amber's Research Minute

Reducing School Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-Building Intervention,” by Jeremy E. Fiel, Anna R. Haskins and Ruth N. López Turley, American Educational Research Journal 50 (2013): 1188–1218.

Behavioral psychology tells us that to gain traction on our problems, we should separate and categorize their individual parts. We tend to do this in education reform, too, identifying and tackling discrete challenges, one at a time (think: teacher evaluations, funding formulas, governance). But according to a new book by business and education professors Ian Mitroff, Lindan Hill, and Can Alpaslan, that way of thinking might actually exacerbate the problem. The authors examine the ways that educators, union leaders, and reformers have approached the interconnected problems that make up “The Education Mess,” as they dub it (income inequality, poverty, hunger, poor health, the achievement gap, etc.). They apply the Jungian systems framework, viewing education as a system of interconnected problems rather than a machine with independent parts. Their critique of Indiana’s education reform overhaul in 2012 demonstrates this perfectly: Mitroff et al. worry that the largely structural changes made by the state will not be systemic enough to support sustainable growth. Their favorite example of systems thinking done right, however, is the Harlem Children’s Zone, which they cite frequently throughout the book. And while we at Fordham are a little skeptical about the scalability of efforts like HCZ, this book offered a unique lens by which to view The Education Mess. And if it takes a village to raise a child, it surely takes a village to improve education.

SOURCE: Ian Mitroff, Lindan B. Hill, and Can M. Alpaslan, Rethinking the Education Mess: A Systems Approach...

Checker Finn, chagrined at the lack of attention to gifted education in the U.S., has decided to study what other nations do. His initial assessment is that we’re not the only one giving high-ability kids minimal thought. Such a strange, unfortunate phenomenon.

With the failure of SIG, we need a Plan B ASAP for kids in failing schools. I’ve long argued for a massive new schools strategy. (More on this to come in an upcoming blog post.) If you’re likeminded or intrigued by the idea of the starting-fresh approach, check out the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ ESEA-reauthorization recommendations. This is a blueprint for Plan B.

I think single-purpose chartering bodies are the future. In fact, I think all public schools (and all private schools participating in voucher or tax-credit programs) should have performance contracts with them (more on this in an upcoming AEI paper). NACSA has a terrific short policy brief on such independent chartering boards. Check it out.

If you follow the increasing use of Value-Added Measures (VAMs) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) in state-, district-, school-, and teacher-accountability systems, read this very good new Mathematica working paper. There’s high correlation between the two, but there are important differences in how teacher ratings shake out based on differences in student populations. Important and fascinating implications.

Ten years ago, TNTP released its first report, Missed Opportunities, which I vividly remember reading in disbelief—urban districts were...

For a decade, the nonprofit Institute for Innovation in Public Choice (IIPSC) has helped the cities of New York, Boston, Denver, and New Orleans bring order to the Wild West of school choice, using the one-two punch of economic theory and custom software. To match students with seats in public schools—either district or charter—the IIPSC builds algorithms that employ three kinds of data: the schools that families want their kids to attend, the number of available seats in every grade at each school, and each schools’ admissions rules. Newly flush with a $1.2 million grant from the Dell Foundation, the IIPSC plans to expand into Philadelphia, Washington, and possibly Detroit. Hat tip!

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education released proposed priorities for a new competitive grant program for charter school support organizations, to come from the annual “national activities fund.” These priorities highlight what the Department deems to be the “key policy issues facing charter schools on a national scale,” and they include gaining efficiency through economies of scale, improving accountability, providing quality education to students with disabilities an English language learners, and supporting personalized technology-enabled learning. While these are important policies at the surface level, it is unclear what the long-term implications and unintended consequences may be of focusing grant making solely on the bigger charter entities and whether smaller, unaffiliated charter schools will realize any benefits.

On Wednesday, President Obama delivered a big speech on inequality, in which he brought up...

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