Governance

The most interesting story coming out of the landmark Vergara and Harris decisions is the coming irresistible-force-immovable-object collision of reformers’ aggressive new litigation strategy and teachers unions’ stout-defense approach to leadership.

These cases provide the nation’s unions an opportunity to produce next-generation leaders who strengthen labor’s long-term position through new rhetoric and priorities. But the unions’ recent bearing—elevating aggressive individuals wedded to longstanding ways—may be a path to their political marginalization or worse.

Most observers interpreted the Vergara-Harris tandem as an anti-union one-two combination. The Vergara decision was the uppercut, a jarring repudiation of California’s policies on tenure and seniority. Harris was the enervating body blow setting up the denouement. It chipped away at unions’ ability to extract dues from nonmembers in the name of preventing “freeriders” ; the Court emphasized the right of individuals to refuse to financially support organizations with which they disagree, which could have major implications for mandatory-dues policies.

Said simply, Vergara struck down union-supported policies, and Harris may eventually serve to turn off a stream of income upon which unions depend for their negotiating and advocacy activities.

A doughty response from labor was...

Inter-district open enrollment often flies under the radar in discussions about school choice. It may be that way because it has been around so long (established in 1989 and operating in its current form since 1998); perhaps because it is not universally available or because many of the most-desirable districts do not allow open enrollment; or perhaps because it is choice “within the family” (that is, the traditional district family). Despite its usual low-profile, two recent newspaper stories shined light on the topic of open enrollment, showing a disconnect between those administering this unsung school choice program and those who actually use it.

From a district’s point of view, open enrollment can easily devolve into “just business” – dollars in and dollars out to be accounted for year after year. Just check out this story from Hancock County in Northwest Ohio. Net financial “winners”—those districts that have more open-enrollee students coming in than leaving—seem to be fine with the system, as might be expected. But net financial “losers” are objecting more strenuously as the losses go on. Their objections, however, often have very little to do with why students are attending a school outside of their “home” district. In...

In which Mike offers/threatens to kiss Joel Klein

Mike and Brickman talk poor-quality math instruction and the ramifications of this week’s Supreme Court decision on union dues. Mike pitches a new bumper sticker: “Keep NCES boring.” And Amber is psyched about New York’s tenure reforms.

Amber's Research Minute

Performance Screens for School Improvement: The Case of Teacher Tenure Reform in New York City,” by Susanna Loeb, Luke C. Miller, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 115 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, June 2014).

On the Rocketship: Expanding the high-quality charter school movement

VIDEO: On the Rocketship: Expanding the high-quality charter school movement

Richard Whitmire’s forthcoming book, On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope, is “the best account yet of what is happening with charters,” says the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews. But big questions still abound: Can Rocketship and other high-performing schools scale up quickly, a la the “Fibonacci sequence”? Can charters do so without falling into the pitfalls of the past? Will struggling urban areas embrace this form of school choice? And what about smug suburbs?

Join the Fordham Institute for a conversation with Whitmire and a panel of experts about his book, the Rocketship network, and the future of charter schooling. 

Last Friday, I laid out policy scenarios that might result from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn. To recap, the case involved plaintiff Pam Harris and other Illinois home-healthcare workers whom public-employee unions had successfully organized (with the help of their allies in the Democratic political establishment). The problem was that Harris and others didn’t want to subsidize the union, didn’t think they were even public employees, and simply wanted to go back to providing healthcare services to their patients, who were often sick family members.

I theorized that the Court would either (a) side with the unions and tell healthcare providers to take it up with the state legislature, (b) side with the healthcare providers but limit the decision to them alone, or (c) extend the decision broadly to say that all public employees needn’t pay union dues or “fair share” payments if they did not want to subsidize the union’s activities. Option “c” is a doomsday scenario for public unions (the unions’ “gravest threat” in the eyes of one commentator) and would effectively prohibit “fair share” payments for workers nationwide.

Why this would cripple the unions isn’t hard to figure out. Last...

USA! USA! USA!

Brickman and Victoria talk principal hiring, Common Core moratoriums, and charter accountability. Dara tells us about barriers to improving schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Policy Barriers to School Improvement: What's Real and What's Imagined? by Lawrence J. Miller and Jane S.Lee, (Seattle, WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, June 2014).

By Daniela Doyle and Gillian Locke, Public Impact
Foreword By Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Amber M. Northern

A school’s leader matters enormously to its success and that of its students and teachers. But how well are U.S. districts identifying, recruiting, selecting, and placing the best possible candidates in principals’ offices? To what extent do their practices enable them to find and hire great school leaders? To what degree is the principal’s job itself designed to attract outstanding candidates?

In Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection, and Placement, authors Daniela Doyle and Gillian Locke examine five urban school districts that have sought to improve their principal-hiring processes in recent years. They find some strengths—but also plenty of challenges:

  • The principalship is a high-pressure job in which the school head’s authority is generally not commensurate with his or her responsibility. It’s also a job that does not pay very well. Put these shortcomings together and it’s not surprising that many high-ability individuals are loath to seek such a position.
  • Recruitment of leadership talent beyond a district’s own boundaries is limited and uneven. Most principals are therefore selected
  • ...

In which Michelle admonishes Governor Jindal

Michelle and Brickman discuss pausing accountability while states transition to the Common Core, the perils of playing politics with Eva Moskowitz, and Governor Bobby Jindal’s Common Core bluster. Amber schools us on teacher prep.

Amber's Research Minute

2014 Teacher Prep Review: A Review of the Nation’s Teacher Preparation Programs by Julie Greenberg, Kate Walsh, and Arthur McKee, (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, June 2014).

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...

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.

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