Governance

Ohio’s cities are rife with people pushing forward education reforms. As education leaders look outwards to new ways to improve education they are also beginning to turn inwards to see what components of the “education machine” are failing the system. In the wake of a very public data scandal, Columbus mayor Michael B. Coleman spurred the creation of the Columbus Education Commission to hold discussions on how to improve the governance of Columbus City Schools and increase the supply of high-quality schools. Amid the discussions, the Commission brought in experts to discuss alternative forms of school leadership which would involve the mayor’s office appointing people to the board or having a hybrid elected and appointed board.

While complete mayoral control of the school board is not likely to come to Columbus, the discussion did open an important policy discussion— what are the impediments to the current structure of school boards in Ohio and how can we work to improve them? In a scathing review of local governance structure in the United States, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy Marc Tucker states that “it is our system of local control that, more than any other feature of our education system, stands between us and the prospect of matching the performance of the countries with the most successful education systems.”

School boards are a part of the issue in Ohio and elsewhere in the nation, and it is systemic problems that do not allow them...

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Lyndsey Layton’s wonderful—and wonderfully revealing—front-page Washington Post article is today’s must read (“Duncan’s mission: Sell preschool plan to GOP”). But if you’re like me, it will leave you scratching your head—if not pulling out your hair.

Obama's pre-K plan
This is the Administration's plan to get an enormous new social entitlement through Congress?
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

This is the Administration’s plan to get an enormous new social entitlement through Congress? Stage events with GOP governors and urge them to pressure Congressional Republicans into passing a tobacco tax? They can’t possibly be that naïve, can they?

In classic Team Obama style, Duncan explains resistance to his boss’s plan as Congressional dysfunction. Yet Republican members of Congress are “functioning” just at they’re supposed to. They promised voters that they would rein in spending, limit the size of government, and keep taxes low. Duncan admits that he wants “a massive influx of resources” in order to “dramatically expand access.” I’m sorry, but that’s not what Republicans were elected to support.

What’s needed isn’t a fancy campaign, complete with a “war room” and “outside-in” strategy, but a real negotiation.*  Republicans might support high-quality preschool for poor kids, but not if it means a whopping new tax. What are Democrats willing to give in return?

I see opportunities in Duncan’s admission that...

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GadflyAccording to the Times, ability grouping is back, after being unfairly stigmatized in the late 1980s and 1990s by misguided ideologues. We hope it’s true, because such grouping enables teachers to tailor their instruction to individual students appropriately—and can be used to match learning styles as well as achievement levels. (Free speech endures at Fordham, however, and not everyone concurs.)

Following school-board squabbles and the subsequent implementation of a new but compromised governance structure (by which the county executive appoints the district CEO and three school-board members), the Prince George’s County public schools have a new board chairman: NEA Director of Teacher Quality Segun Eubanks. We know and respect Eubanks and wish him the best of luck—but can’t help but smirk. What a classic case of the union sitting on both sides of the negotiating table.

To help close its $304 million budget deficit (brought on in large part by skyrocketing pension costs), the school district of Philadelphia announced that it has pink-slipped 3,783 employees: 676 teachers, 283 counselors, 127 assistant principals, and 1,202 noontime aides—a move that Superintendent Hite called “nothing less than catastrophic.” We hate to say, “I told you so”…...

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To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1

To every thing there is a season
To every thing there is a season.
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons

For more than four years now, we at the Fordham Institute have been arguing for a federal education policy of “Reform Realism”—one that is reform-oriented but also realistic about what Washington can effectively achieve. It’s a compromise position of sorts, putting us between the “Army of the Potomac” (lefty reformers who have never glimpsed a problem that Uncle Sam can’t solve) and the Local Controllers (Tea Party types who want zero federal role in education, thank you ma’am). We further fleshed out our vision two years ago with our ESEA Briefing Book and list of 10 recommendations to imbue that key federal law with Reform Realism.

Halfway through 2013, we find ourselves examining another set of ESEA bills and in the midst of another series of ESEA mark-ups. And after highlighting the ridiculous prescriptiveness of the Senate Democrats’s proposal, I find myself under attack from friends on the left for abandoning Reform Realism and joining the Local Controllers. Have I drunk the Kool-Aid—er, tea?

Granted, it’s harder for me today to find much of...

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By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

I’ve known Mashea Ashton on and off for almost a decade. We’ve done charter school stuff together and crossed paths in various other pursuits. I always liked and respected her a great deal. In my mind she was good people.

Marc Porter Magee 50CAN

But through a fellowship program, I got to know Mashea even better. And for that I’m eternally grateful. Seldom will you come across someone with so much ability and yet so much humility. She is reflective and kind to the core, and she does this work with a quiet passion.

As you’ll see in the questions, Mashea has just about done it all. She’s worked for some of the most influential ed-reform organizations, and she’s currently leading a major effort in one of America’s most prominent ed-reform cities.

But you’ll also see in her answers how she manages to avoid the limelight: by simply being decent and modest and giving others credit.

And that is why I love doing these interviews: to show why our movement is so strong and to draw attention to those who so richly deserve it.

Ladies and gentlemen: the wonderful Mashea Ashton.

What makes you most proud of the Newark Charter School Fund?

I’m most proud of the...

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Antonio Gramsci
Sometimes, it helps to just laugh.
Photo by Nomadic Lass

The ESEA-reauthorization bill released by Senate HELP committee Chairman Tom Harkin this week is advertised as getting “the federal government out of the business of ‘micromanaging’ schools’” and offering states significant “flexibility.” As I told the New York Times, that claim is laughable. Here are forty policy questions which Chairman Harkin could have let states or local school districts answer, but didn’t. (In contrast, Senator Lamar Alexander’s bill remains silent on all forty, leaving these issues to the states or localities.)

Early Childhood Guidelines and Standards

1.   States must adopt “early learning guidelines” that address “infants, toddlers, and pre-school age children.”
2.   The guidelines must address “language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development” for “each age group.”
3.   The guidelines must “address the cultural and linguistic diversity and the diverse abilities of young children.”
4.   States must also adopt “early grade standards” for Kindergarten through third grade.
5.   The standards must address “language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development.”
6.   The standards must also “address cultural, linguistic, and ability level diversity.”

...

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After a judge ruled last year that Los Angeles was in violation of the Stull Act—a forty-year-old state law signed by Governor Ronald Reagan requiring that principal and teacher evaluations include student-achievement measures, and spurred on by Los Angeles’s ongoing attempt at obtaining a district-level NCLB waiver, Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy announced that, as of next year, the district will “fully implement the evaluation changes” tested in an ongoing pilot program.

After three years of failed negotiations and angst galore, New York City has a teacher-evaluation plan. Teachers’ evaluation ratings will be comprised of student-test scores (20 to 25 percent), school-established measures (15 to 20 percent), and in-class or video-recorded observations (55 to 60 percent). But don’t break out the celebratory flan just yet! Some are balking at plans to assess subjects like art, gym, and foreign languages, and at least one mayoral candidate has already come out against the plan.

On Tuesday, D.C. councilmember David Catania announced seven proposals that could reform the District’s public education system dramatically—including a five-year facility plan and a process for handing over surplus buildings to charters. For her part, Chancellor Kaya Henderson expressed interest in some pieces (e.g., more money to low-performing high schools) but resisted the more dramatic ones (e.g., a set metric that would mandate closure for consistently underperforming schools)....

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There’s no shortage of bad news in education these days, nor any dearth of stasis, but at least education reform is a lively, forward-looking enterprise that gets positive juices flowing in many people and that is leading to promising changes across many parts of the K–12 system. We are focused on making things better—via stronger standards (Common Core), greater parental choice (vouchers, charters, and more), more effective teachers (upgrading preparation programs, devising new evaluation regimens) and lots else.

The big squeeze

When it comes to pension reform in the education realm, however, it’s hard to stay positive. Here, we’re saddled with a bona fide fiscal calamity (up to a trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities by some counts) and no consensus about how to rectify the situation. No matter how one slices and dices this problem, somebody ends up paying in ways they won’t like and perhaps shouldn’t have to bear. All we can say is that some options are less bad than others.

Today’s new Fordham study examines how three cities (and their states) are apportioning the misery—or failing to do so. This analysis pulls no cheery rabbits out of a dark hat, but it definitely illustrates the nature and scale of the pension-funding problem and describes a couple of painful yet, in their ways, promising solutions (or partial solutions) to it. As you will...

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By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

Robin Lake is the Director of the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington. I’m personally indebted to her, because for more than a decade, my thinking has been consistently informed, influenced, and improved by CRPE’s work. Robin has been instrumental to CRPE’s most important contributions, including extensive research on charter schooling and hands-on support for districts attempting the groundbreaking “portfolio” concept.

Robin Lake CRPE

She has published on issues as diverse as special education, turnarounds, accountability, innovation, LIFO, SEA reform, and governance. Her counsel is sought by organizations across our field and by policymakers of all stripes.

And she’s just a really good person. Everyone likes and respects Robin, especially those who know her best. I’ve admired her thoughtful, sensible approach to this work and her honest, down-to-earth interactions with friends and colleagues.

Her responses will give you a flavor for her many other strengths. She’s sharp, modest, open, honest, and really funny.

Now she’s TOTALLY wrong about her critiques of my book, which is perfect in every way imaginable. But I won’t hold that against her, especially because her answer to my Slaughter/Sandberg question is hilarious, and her analyses of Ronaldo’s dancing, Messi’s godliness, and Beckham’s tattoos are spot on.

So with no further...

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This week I am joining members of CEE-Trust for a conversation on some of the nation’s most promising city-based school reform efforts. CEE-Trust is a coalition of 33 reform organizations like MindTrust in Indianapolis, Mayor Karl Dean in Nashville, Charter School Partners in Minneapolis, New Schools for New Orleans, and the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland. Fordham is a founding member, and this is one of my absolutely favorite groups to spend time with because the people involved are leading implementers and practitioners of school reform. They are all doers.

In years past I always left the CEE-Trust meetings wishing more were happening in Ohio’s cities. But, this year is different. Ohio’s big cities are rapidly becoming leaders in school reform. In fact, I’d argue there is no state with three major cities doing more than what is happening in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Consider the following.

CLEVELAND

In early 2012 Mayor Frank Jackson (who appoints the school board) unveiled his “Plan for Transforming Schools.” The Jackson Plan required changes to state law and in July 2012 Governor Kasich signed House Bill 525, which gave the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and its superintendent Eric Gordon new flexibilities to deal with the city’s long-suffering schools. Key elements of the plan included:

  • Keeping high-performing and specialized teachers during layoffs by making tenure and seniority only secondary factors in those personnel decisions.
  • Paying teachers on a “differentiated” salary schedule based on performance, special skills and duties, as opposed to years of
  • ...
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