Governance

Robert Hanna

Andy Smarick and Juliet Square recently published a report arguing that state education agencies, or SEAs, lack the expertise needed to implement today’s education reforms. Federal policymakers expected SEAs to be “compliance examiners,” focused on monitoring districts’ use of federal education funds, they wrote. The authors argue that many of SEAs’ successes are limited to compliance and that SEAs are not capable of meeting the additional demands of educational innovation and reform. In a related blog post by Smarick, he refers to compliance and monitoring as being in the SEA’s “DNA structure.”

If compliance is really in SEAs’ DNA, did the federal government get the gene sequencing wrong?

Today, the Center for American Progress released three reports about the ways in which SEAs work within the current education governance system. The reports identify innovative approaches to changing the genetic code of SEAs given current demands for far-reaching education reforms. We argue that despite barriers, real or perceived, there are more effective ways for states to meet these demands—and that both federal policymakers and state leaders have roles to play.

As education policy researcher Patrick Murphy describes in his report, federal education regulations often have adverse impacts on states. Each federal fund comes with different strings attached. As a consequence, SEA leaders often silo their agencies by federal fund in order to make sure they meet compliance requirements. For example, staff working on projects funded by Title I are contained within...

Categories: 

The World Cup vs. Underwear Models

Amber and Michelle talk teacher tenure, selective high schools, and the stunning upset of Eric Cantor. Dara takes over the Research Minute with a study on whether vouchers "cherry pick" the best students.

Amber's Research Minute

Contexts Matter: Selection in Means-Tested School Voucher Programs,” by Cassandra M. D. Hart, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 26(2), June 2014: 186–206.

Like many states, Ohio has lately undertaken a slew of ambitious but much-needed K–12 education reforms. In the Buckeye State, these include ratcheting up academic-content standards (e.g., Ohio’s New Learning Standards, which includes the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts), bringing new assessments online, putting in place new accountability measures, and expanding and ensuring quality school choices for parents and students. Taken together, these changes are significantly changing the ecosystem of Ohio’s public schools.

The spring session of the Ohio General Assembly generated few significant new reforms. But lawmakers pulled off a mostly commendable nip-and-tuck job on those already adopted. They fine-tuned several big reform initiatives in ways that should help schools put them into practice. They also improved accountability for Ohio’s school-choice programs. The Mid-Biennium Review bills (House Bills 483 and 487) now await the signature of Governor Kasich. Here we discuss the most substantive policy issues (save for teacher evaluations, which are discussed in the following piece).

Pausing Accountability

The General Assembly reasserted Ohio’s commitment to the Common Core and to the PARCC assessments. But it prudently slowed things down a bit. To help schools adjust to these new and more-challenging expectations, the legislature provided a one-year “safe harbor” for districts and schools. For the 2014–15 school year, the first year that PARCC will be fully operational, the legislature exempts schools and districts from accountability sanctions such as automatic charter closure, state receivership (via the Academic Distress Commission), and...

Categories: 
Joe Siedlecki

Here follows the tenth entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some cities’ charter sectors outpace their district schools while others fall behind.

In a recent column for USA Today, AEI’s Rick Hess and Michael McShane argued that “creeping bureaucratization and regulation are endangering the entire charter school movement.” I’d argue the opposite: the real danger to the charter movement is lack of effective regulatory enforcement.

In their column, Hess and McShane put the best possible face on charter successes:

Objective analysis has also found charter schools to be successful, particularly with students from low income backgrounds. In 2013, researchers at Stanford University studied charter schools in twenty-seven states and found that, on average, students in charter schools outperform traditional public school students in reading and do about the same in math. Students below the poverty line and African American students were both found to fare better in charter than in public schools when their standardized test scores were disaggregated.

Certainly there have been sector-wide improvements since 2009, when the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO, home of the Stanford researchers cited above) issued a highly influential report, which found “a disturbing—and far-reaching—subset of poorly performing charter schools.” CREDO’s 2013 update notes important improvements and can indeed be summarized at the broadest level (as Hess and McShane have done) as positive.

But children are educated at individual...

Categories: 

Six inches of squish

On this week's podcast: A lunch fight, a School Choice Ohio lawsuit, the DOE's My Brother's Keeper initiative, and Amber reviews NCTQ's Roll Call report.

Amber's Research Minute

Roll Call: The Importance of Teacher Attendance by Nithya Joseph, Nancy Waymack, and Daniel Zielaski, (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, June 2014).

Here follows the second entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind.

If I were made omnipotent for a day and charged with creating a single high-performing city charter sector, my playbook would probably look similar to that of other charter supporters…but with one major exception.

Here’s what I’d do based on the lessons of the last two decades.

Acquire as much educator talent as possible

No system of schools can thrive without the best teachers and school leaders. New York City (during its Klein-era heyday), Boston, and New Orleans have been magnets for talents, and they’ve benefitted accordingly. National organizations such as Teach For America and TNTP have been indispensable educator pipelines in leading cities, and a number of homegrown initiatives have also been valuable.

Recruit and build high-quality school operators

Blessedly, we finally have a critical mass of organizations that can start and operate high-performing, high-poverty urban schools. Cities with outstanding CMOs such as KIPP, Uncommon, and Achievement First have a huge head start. These organizations reliably develop and scale successful schools. But there are still too few of these national operators, and it would be understandable if a city were to balk at the idea of having a public school system comprised entirely of “outside” operators. Great charter school incubators like those...

Categories: 

Last week, I participated in two events that challenged my ideas on one of urban education’s trickiest and most combustible issues.

Those who know only a caricatured version of my views might be surprised by both the subject and those who’ve caused my ruminations. But I wrestled with this issue in my book, and while I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my interlocutors of last week, they have valuable insights into this issue.

I’m writing about it here both because it’s important and because, frankly, I need help figuring out the right answer.

The question is, “How do we protect the ‘public’ in public education?”

On Wednesday, I participated in this discussion at the AFT’s Shanker Institute. At a conference the following day, I moderated a conversation between urban school leaders, and similar issues kept bubbling up.

There are many ways to define a school’s “public-ness” (Rick Hess expertly unbundles the issues here). But the aspect I’m most concerned about relates to governance, whether the public—the adults in the geographic area served by the system of schools—is able to shape the contours of the system.

The very specific issue I’m interested in is how this can happen absent locally elected school boards.

Per state constitutions, ensuring a system of public education is the responsibility of state governments. They, however, have created local school districts and boards, thereby delegating K–12 authority...

Categories: 

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education was born in response to A Nation at Risk, and in a 1991 report, it pointed the way toward the Bay State's much-praised 1993 education-reform act. What happened thereafter is widely known: with an entire suite of reforms in place, the “Massachusetts Miracle” propelled that state to a level of educational performance that rivaled leading nations elsewhere on the globe. The past few years, however, have seen some stagnation and backsliding on the ed-reform front in the Bay State, and the MBAE recognized that the time has come for a new kick in the pants. So they engaged Sir Michael Barber and his Brightlines colleague, Simon Day, to prepare the present report, a status update and road map to the future. Even a jaded report reader might fairly term the result thrilling. It acknowledges the stagnation problem and depicts six gaps as the main challenges facing Massachusetts: the employability gap (the dearth of needed skills for success in the modern economy); the knowledge gap (a lack of crucial Hirsch-style content); the achievement gap (similar to NCLB concerns); the opportunity gap (i.e., poor kids don’t get a fair shake); the global gap (the state will lose its international ranking as countries with strong education systems forge ahead); and the top-talent gap (failure to address the education needs of gifted youngsters). For each of these gaps, an audacious but convincing set of remedies is proposed. I've no idea whether the Bay State has the will, the...

Categories: 

Anyone concerned with improving the achievement, efficiency, operations, or other performance of school districts inevitably asks: Shouldn’t the board be responsible for doing this right? How much do school boards matter, anyway?

In the past, school boards have been characterized both as key partners in improving education and as foes of reforms that would benefit children. More recently, they’ve also been depicted as beside-the-point, structural relics of early-twentieth-century organizational arrangements that have little effect on what actually happens in classrooms or on what kids learn.

So which is it? When it comes to the elected leaders of most of the 14,000 school districts in the U.S., are board members critical actors in enhancing student learning, protectors of the status quo, or simply harmless bystanders? If they are critical, are they well suited to delivering the best results for students? And if they are indeed capable and willing to focus on student learning, do such qualities at the board level bear any relationship to academic results in their districts?

Until now, nobody had much evidence one way or the other. So, building on a large-scale survey (done in collaboration with the NSBA and ISBF), we set out to see whether school board members’ characteristics, knowledge, and priorities could be linked to district performance. To explore these questions, we enlisted Arnold F. Shober, associate professor of government at Lawrence University, and Michael T. Hartney, researcher in political science at the University of Notre Dame. Both have conducted significant previous research into...

Categories: 

Are Local School Boards Vital in 21st Century America?

Are Local School Boards Vital in 21st Century America?

Some education reformers contend that elected local school boards are anachronisms that maintain the status quo rather than change agents bent on ushering U.S. education toward a brighter future. Their supporters argue that they embody democracy, give voice and power to the local community, and are more reliable and trustworthy than any other school-governance structure.

Wherever you may stand on this issue, please join some thoughtful leaders for a lively debate about the role of school boards in today’s public-education system—and in tomorrow’s.  

Pages