Governance

In back-to-back days last week, I had the chance to spend time with different groups of leaders interested in improving state-level reform work.

These conversations were very different than the philosophical fights about the advisability of big reforms like educator effectiveness and Common Core. They were also different than discussions of school- and district-level activities, like Success Academy’s test scores or district staffing patterns.

Both sets of conversations are very important, and I regularly take part in both. But I think too little attention is given to a third set of activities, the state-level work sitting between the two.

State governments are the entities ultimately responsible, under state constitutions, for ensuring kids have access to great schools. This means state governments need to handle funding formulas, longitudinal data system, the adoption of standards and assessments, the monitoring of big federal programs, and more.

The two meetings I participated in addressed different aspects of state-level activity. One was about the smart, careful implementation of new standards and assessments. The other was about figuring out the best way to execute all of the state’s responsibilities, whether through the traditional SEA or through other...

At the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, Ohio’s school districts employed 132,000 or so individuals who were not classified as teachers or administrators in 2010. Who are these people, what services do they provide, and do their efforts help students achieve? In this new report, my Fordham colleague Matthew Richmond  explores the “hidden half” of school personnel in Ohio and across the nation. The study documents a huge increase in non-teaching personnel over the last several decades—an increase that has received almost no attention, despite its sizeable implications on district budgets.

In 2010, non-teachers comprised half of the U.S. public-school workforce—up from 40 percent in 1970, and 30 percent in 1950. Taken together, their salaries and benefits total one quarter of all current K-12 education expenditure. The story in Ohio mirrors national trends: In 1986, Ohio had just 47 non-teaching staff for every 1,000 students. By 2010, that number rose to 75. When the study disaggregated the category of non-teaching personnel (a sort of catch-all classification of non-teachers, including administrators), the largest growth occurred in the teacher-aide category. From 1970 to 2010, this group swelled from 1.7 percent of the U.S. public-school workforce to 11.8 percent, an increase of...

This is a tricky story, but stay with me.

A 10-year-old charter school in the Cincinnati area ended up in court against the Ohio Department of Education back in July in an effort to find a sponsor (after being dropped) and to reopen as usual for the 2014-15 school year. The tussling ended in a court-ordered limbo, but the legal questions remained an active concern.

A July 29 piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer summarized the story to that point and quoted Fordham’s Vice President for Sponsorship and Dayton Initiatives Kathryn Mullen Upton laying out the legal issues under consideration: "(1) The accountability system and an authorizer's judgment about the quality of a school are meaningless; (2) if you're a school that is non-renewed by any authorizer, not just ODE, you can simply go to court and up your chances of finding a new sponsor; and (3) despite recent actions to try to improve school and authorizer quality, ODE in reality has scant enforcement ability/authority… In a nutshell, it's a huge step backward for Ohio."

The limbo dragged on with no resolution but on August 12 the school announced it would not reopen due to financial distress....

As a huge fan of both school choice and the NFL, I love the idea of a major star leading a great school and becoming a voice for school reform. Successful athletes who take time to give back, work with young athletes, and ensure kids get a great education should be commended, right? 

But a recent New York Times article digging into Deion Sanders’ two schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area should be enough to make any education-reform advocate’s skin crawl. Both his elementary school and high school were among the 9 percent of all Texas schools to receive the lowest rating from the state: “improvement required.” But according to the Times, the problems go much deeper, and many of them have to do with Deion himself.

For one thing, local and national coverage has described an obsessive focus on athletics, resulting Prime Prep securing top talent. There’s nothing wrong with that by itself, as—for better or worse—schools everywhere have long been accused of going out of their way to recruit top athletes. Yet when Prime Prep was accused of violating state athletic association rules, the Times reports, “Prime Prep founders announced that they would pull out of the University Interscholastic League. That did...

My Fordham colleague Andy Smarick is engaged in a one-man intellectual odyssey this summer aimed at quelling his intellectual discomfort on a fascinating question: is education reform inherently anti-conservative?

“At its heart, conservatism is about humility. It holds that there is great value in the traditional. Old things have stood the test of time,” Andy writes. So how can you call yourself a conservative, as Andy does, if you are “disposed to preserve venerable institutions and yet favor dramatic K–12 change?”

Andy’s posts are a work in progress, but allow me to enter the fray in medias res because I find the frame and his intellectual exercise absorbing. I’ll confess that disrupting the “institution” of public education has never given me much pause. I’m not sentimental about “public schools” and haven’t been since I started teaching in one. “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty,” Madison said. He had nothing to say about the issues ed reformers (and those who resist reform) tend to focus on: under whose control, beneath which roof, on whose dime, and with what forms of accountability?

The public’s interest lies in a well-educated citizenry. The wish to share with...

Andy's odyssey: Part three

This series’ first two posts mostly noodled around with concepts, probably leaving dirty-fingernail types sighing, “What does any of this have to do with our actual work?”

In subsequent posts, I’ll narrow in on applications, but it probably makes sense to spend a little time on this now. Here, I’ll try to explain why a conversation about the intersection of conservatism and ed reform is timely and, hopefully, whet your appetite for further discussions.

It’s probable that Republicans will shortly wield more power. The 2014 midterms are nearing, and President Obama’s approval rating is but 42 percent.

Even if that number were higher, Democratic prospects would still be gloomy. The second midterm for the sitting president’s party almost always produces big losses (see FDR, Ike, GWB, etc.). The GOP already controls the House of Representatives, and it is expected to take the Senate and maintain control of a strong majority of governorships. While it’s too early to forecast the 2016 presidential election, history teaches that seldom does a party hold the Oval Office for three consecutive terms.

So how would an ascendant Right, cognizant of the...

The lawyering-up edition

Mike talks with Andy Smarick about Governor Jindal’s legal war on PARCC, Wisconsin’s high-court take on union bargaining, and D.C. charter funding’s time in federal court. Amber doubles down on double dosing.

Amber's Research Minute

Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence From a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School by Eric Taylor, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, June 2014).

Transcript

Mike Petrilli:             Hello. This is your host Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. And now please join me in welcoming my cohost, the Russian hacker of education policy, Andy Smarick.

Andy Smarick:           1.2 million emails, passwords and going strong. How are you?

Mike Petrilli:             Wow! And this is a Russian crime ring that has stolen all these emails and passwords. 1.2 billion. Of course my response is, “Surely, it wasn’t mine. Surely mine … What are the odds that mine was one of those?”

Andy Smarick:           My wife and I have been the victim of two different mass hackings; one where we went to school and one where I used to have my payroll. Now when it happens to me, I’m like stand in line. I’ve been hacked so many times.

Mike Petrilli:             I did get hacked once with the one where they guy sends the email to all of your friends that I am on a trip in Croatia …

Andy Smarick:           You fell for that?

Mike Petrilli:             No, no. My email got hacked.

Andy Smarick:           Oh, wow.

Mike Petrilli:             What was interesting was to see which of my friends and family fell for it. To some degree it was like, well, they’re looking out for me. I know who’s interested in my safety, my wellbeing. On the other hand, I also know who needs to get a little bit hip to the internet.

Andy Smarick:           That’s right. But you also know who deserves to be in your will. They care about you.

Mike Petrilli:             Nice. Okay, Andy. Lots to talk about today. This is kind of a big deal, my first …

Andy Smarick:           I was about to say congratulations.

Mike Petrilli:             Thank you.

Andy Smarick:           Just as I was walking into the building, I saw poor Checker Finn, out on the curb with all of his stuff out there. Mike ascends and then boots him out.

Mike Petrilli:             His weird false idols, Divishnu, and other things that are in his office. We did move Checker out of his office to a smaller office. It looks like an antiquities museum. The stuff kind of freaks us all out a little bit.

Andy Smarick:           Checker has amassed a lot of interesting things over 50 years in the business.

Mike Petrilli:             He has. No, no, no. He did step down as President. He is still on staff, will still be going strong. Probably cause more trouble than ever, because he doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day stuff of raising money.

Andy Smarick:           Less staff meetings, that right.

Mike Petrilli:             But it is an honor to become President …

Andy Smarick:           Congratulations.

Mike Petrilli:             … of the Fordham Institute. Thank you. Of course, I have been the president of this podcast for eight or nine years.

Andy Smarick:           Has it been that long that it’s been going on?

Mike Petrilli:             Yes.

Andy Smarick:           Wow.

Mike Petrilli:             And you’ve been listening all that time.

Andy Smarick:           Well, I’ve been on for quite some time. I didn’t realize it was that long.

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely. Okay, guys. Let’s get going.

Andy Smarick:           Let’s roll.

Mike Petrilli:             Let’s play, Pamela. It’s a special, everyone’s lawyering up edition, of the Education Gadfly. Let’s play Pardon the Gadfly.

Pamela Tatz:             Last week, the Louisiana Board of Education voted to join a lawsuit against Governor Jindal challenging his executive order last month that barred the state from administering the Common Core-aligned PARCC test. Who has the authority to decide whether the state will ditch PARCC and the Common Core?

Mike Petrilli:             Andy, what the bleep is going on down there in Louisiana?

Andy Smarick:           It is a cluster. I have never seen anything like this before. It’s one thing to file lawsuits, but there are these ethics charges against people, there are audits going on, people worried about their reputations. It’s gone from bad to ugly to gory.

Mike Petrilli:             I understand Bobby Jindal wants to President or Vice-President at least, and he’s decided he’s going to be the Tea Party candidate because his policy wong shtick wasn’t working, okay. I think that’s horrible and bad for the kids of Louisiana. Of course I’m a supporter of Common Core. I sort of get all of that. He can stand up. He can oppose the Common Core. What he may not have expected was that his own Board of Education pushed back, and his own Board of Regents pushed back, the Republicans in the legislature pushed back.

Andy Smarick:           His hand-chosen State Chief, John White.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, pushed back. David Vitter, running to replace him, has pushed back. I would think that, hey, Bobby, you’ve done enough. You have shown the Tea Party you’re with them, so say, hey, I gave it my all. But instead, he’s going to go after poor John White with ethics charges. He’s going to file lawsuits. This is madness. Stop the madness.

Andy Smarick:           I agree. I consider myself a friend of John White, so I’m biased in this too. There’s this wonderful Jonathan Swift line. It’s something along the lines of you know true genius enters the world when the dunces are in the confederacy against him. I think that Jindal was betting on the idea that he can say, when he’s running for office, that all these other people who are aligned against me, this is just proof that they all have it wrong, that I’m willing to be on and on with it.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, except that he appointed many of them, and he helped elect many of them …

Andy Smarick:           Well, there’s that small …

Mike Petrilli:             … and he’s worked with many of them on other parts of his agenda. I don’t know. It’s hard to watch. Look, long-time listeners of the show, you should know that one key figure in all of this is Stafford Palmieri, who was on the show, …

Andy Smarick:           Former Fordham.

Mike Petrilli:             … former Fordham, and is now Jindal’s Policy Director. I have not had a chance to talk to her recently. I would love to find out what the heck is going on. I would just say, look, you’ve made your point. Enough is enough. We’re now, what, nine months away from when they’re supposed to give the PARCC test?

Andy Smarick:           That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             I don’t know what they’re going to do if they don’t give that PARCC test instead. Give the test! Give it up!

Andy Smarick:           I don’t know. I think this issue is a poker sweepstake. He’s pot committed. He’s put all of his chips in on this hand, and I don’t think that you can retreat with dignity here. This may go on.

Mike Petrilli:             Maybe he can lose in court with some dignity. Okay, topic number two in our special edition on everyone’s lawyering up.

Andy Smarick:           Sponsored by the American Trial Lawyers Association.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, thank you.

Pamela Tatz:             Wisconsin’s high court just affirmed the constitutionality of Act 10, the controversial law passed back in 2011 that, among other things, restricted collective bargaining rights of states’ teachers unions. Will it spread to other states? Is this good for ed reform?

Andy Smarick:           Had you asked me three months ago or six months ago, I would have said, “No, this is an outlier. It will stay in Wisconsin. It will go no farther.” But what is happening currently with the teachers union and Vergara and how they are digging their heals in and becoming more and more stubborn on these issues, I’m wondering if there’s going to be an increasing backlash to unions and they are unwittingly actually giving the fuel to the fire of these kinds of pieces of legislation and then lawsuits.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. It’s a really good point. Look, it’s already spread. Michigan passed a law that was somewhat similar. Indiana did it, I think mostly through executive order, at least diminishing the authority of unions, teacher unions, to bargain. All these issues, there’s a whole bundle of them. It’s what can you collectively bargain over? There’s the tenure issue. There’s the LIFO issue. Those are different issues, but they’re kind of this bundle, as you say, Andy. Look, if this turns out to be a wave election for Republicans, like many people think it will be, you could see even more Republican supermajorities in state legislatures, and a lot of those states would be more than happy to take it to the teachers unions.

Andy Smarick:           We’re seeing a perfect storm, potentially, here for the history buffs out there. Midterm elections for the President’s party are always bad. The second midterm election of a sitting President’s party are particularly bad, going all the way back to the …

Mike Petrilli:             Well, though ’98 was an exception, perhaps because of impeachment.

Andy Smarick:           That’s right, because of impeachment. But in every other one, it usually is a bloodbath. When you combine that with the fact that the teachers unions, by digging in, are giving a lot of the base a reason to lash out at organized labor. Unless the unions have decided to do a course correction, they may be on the wrong side of this.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay. Topic number three in our special lawyering up edition.

Pamela Tatz:             The D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools has filed a Federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia, alleging that the government has underfunded the Charters to the tune of almost a billion dollars, in violation of D.C. law. Do these Charters deserve equal funding? Does it matter that the DCPS spends an exorbitant amount of money?

Andy Smarick:           I love that question. Are you going to argue against fair funding?

Mike Petrilli:             I really struggle with this, Andy. I’ll be honest. If you had to pick, of all of the places in the country where we should have a fight over Charter funding, I’m not sure I’d start with D.C.

Andy Smarick:           Right, I hear you.

Mike Petrilli:             Look, it is true, that compared to DCPS they get shafted. There is a local ordinance that says they’re supposed to get share funding. Looking at it, they’ve got a case. But they get so much more money than Charter schools anywhere else.

Andy Smarick:           Probably three times as much maybe in some places in California.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, yeah. They get preschool funding. They get facilities funding, which I’m in favor of, but it gets you back to this old question again about equity versus adequacy.

Andy Smarick:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Petrilli:             Right? You can make the same … Look, we know, we have a system that has these vast inequities in education funding across districts, between districts and Charters, and frankly, Andy, it’s not fixable. Right? There will always be inequities, I believe, because of our system of taxation, because of local control, for all these reasons. Then you start to say, well, if rich people are always going to be able to spend a bazillion dollars on their own schools, and there’s really no way to stop that, then you get to this point where you say, what we really got to focus on is making sure that there’s no school that is funded at such a low level they can’t provide good services to their kids.

Andy Smarick:           I think the politics of this may turn out to be the most interesting thing. It is one thing for a court to hear a case when the Charter sector is, say, 2%, 5% of a market share. Then the court can kind of say, well, yeah, you’re getting underfunded, but it’s really not that many kids. We really need to protect the district and make sure that all the equities there are taken care of.

Now that the Charter sector in D.C. is serving almost a majority of students, it’s not like the court is … We cannot assume that they are going to defer and always do what the district wants anymore. The Charter sector can come in and say increasingly we are serving a higher number of kids. We are growing, the district is getting smaller. We need to get ahead of this thing, make sure we have the resources we need.

Mike Petrilli:             Although I don’t even know, Andy, that that stuff would come up in a lawsuit, per se. The court’s going to look at the law. I guess there are some constitutional issues that the plaintiffs have raised, but mostly it just says, look, there’s this law that D.C., I think the D.C. Council, I assume, has passed that says that Charter schools are supposed to get equal funding. Are they living up to that law or not? You don’t even have to address the constitutional questions. It’s not really up to the court to figure out all the other ramifications, or the politics or anything like that. You just say, look, are you living up to that law or not?

Hey, by the way, let’s get those laws passed in other states, too. That’d be awesome if we had a law in Ohio that said, hey, Charter schools have to get equal funding compared to district schools and you guys figure out how to make it happen. That would be very interesting.

Andy Smarick:           It would be. This gets complicated because the formula is one thing, but then part of the argument is that DCPS is getting in-kind services from other agencies in the city, so you could make the argument that the funding formula is being fairly administered. It’s all these extra add-ons that turn out to be inequitable.

Mike Petrilli:             I see, I see, I see. All right.

Andy Smarick:           We shall se.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay, that’s all the time we’ve got for Pardon the Gadfly. Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite Amber’s Research Minute. Amber, welcome back to the show.

Amber Northern:      Thank you, Mike.

Mike Petrilli:             Back from a week off at the beach.

Amber Northern:      Man! It rained three solid days, though. Three solid days. I’m not very tanned.

Andy Smarick:           You look relaxed, though.

Amber Northern:      I’m relaxed. I mean, how many movies, how many shops can you go to when it rains?

Mike Petrilli:             Well, okay. Look, I know it’s tough, but imagine if you had two small children along with you and it rained.

Amber Northern:      Yes, that’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             Then you’d be pulling your hair out.

Amber Northern:      Quick plug for a movie. We saw Get On Up. You heard about this movie?

Mike Petrilli:             Get On Up.

Amber Northern:      Get On Up.

Andy Smarick:           Never heard of it.

Amber Northern:      You got to go see it.

Mike Petrilli:             James Brown?

Amber Northern:      James Brown life story.

Andy Smarick:           Get On Up.

Mike Petrilli:             Who plays in it?

Amber Northern:      It was awesome.

Andy Smarick:           I do.

Amber Northern:      Some guy you’ve never heard of, but who was phenomenal.

Mike Petrilli:             Really?

Amber Northern:      Yeah. Got to see it.

Andy Smarick:           But I could play him.

Mike Petrilli:             Your dance moves.

Andy Smarick:           He was an inspiration.

Amber Northern:      You know, there’s like two lines in that. Get on up. I’m a sex machine. That’s it.

Mike Petrilli:             That’s right.

Andy Smarick:           That’s the whole song.

Amber Northern:      He just repeats it over and over. The whole movie theater’s like doing the little jive.

Andy Smarick:           That’s awesome.

Amber Northern:      We’re digging it. It was a great song.

Mike Petrilli:             See? See, and if it had not rained, you would have missed that.

Amber Northern:      I know. There were some highlights.

Mike Petrilli:             Look on the bright side, Amber. Okay, what you got for us this week?

Amber Northern:      We got a new study out by Eric Taylor out of Stanford. It examines whether a double dose of math for low performers … meaning you take one remedial class, you take one grade level math class … improves math achievement. He looks at student data from ‘03-‘04 through 2013 in Miami Dade County Public Schools. He tracks the outcomes of middle school students who score just below and just above a predetermined cutoff score on the previous spring state assessment.

Mike Petrilli:             Does this mean a discontinuity analysis?                    

Amber Northern:      [inaudible 00:12:32] discontinuity, Michael Petrilli. Woohoo! He got it.

Andy Smarick:           Impressive, Mike Petrilli.

Amber Northern:      All right. So the kids just below are, obviously, taking the double dose; just above, you’re just taking the regular course. He found that students taking the double dose made significantly higher gains on math assessments compared to those students who were just above the cutoff score and didn’t double dose.    

Yet over time, the gains diminished. One year after returning to a single math schedule, just a third to a half of the gain remained. Two years later, the gain was about one-fifth to one-third of the original. Once students finished high school, there was little evidence of achievement differences between the groups. This was kind of an interesting little thing he looked into. Treated students were no more likely to have completed Algebra I by the end of ninth grade or to have completed Algebra II by the end of high school.

Then he starts talking about fadeout and it’s similar to other intervention. Fadeout’s like reducing class size. He’s got this nice discussion section about what other courses they weren’t exposed to like Art. I think some of the kids, he looked at it and there fewer kids taking foreign language, obviously, because there was this crowd out.

It was an interesting study. Then you’ve got another few studies that show the opposite, that actually show a double dose in Algebra and it did actually show kids enrolling in college enrollment at higher rates and completing. I just feel like this is not the last word on double dosing. But it showed a fadeout.

Mike Petrilli:             It showed a fadeout. Let me ask the obvious question. They said, okay, you get a big jump if you do double dosing, but then once you stop double dosing, you get a fadeout. Why not keep double dosing?

Amber Northern:      Yeah, that’s right. I do believe he looked at a double dose again, but because of the kids, and don’t quote me on this, but I think he lost some of the sample as he kept tracking and wasn’t able to say definitely …

Mike Petrilli:             Schools don’t tend to do that. They do this one year, and then that’s it? That’s the idea?

Amber Northern:      That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             Interesting.

Andy Smarick:           Interesting. The opportunity cost question is an interesting one. What do they lose by getting this additional, secondary dose of math, whether it is foreign language stuff? What are the costs of that compared to the benefits?

Amber Northern:      That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             We’ve published some work by Nate Levenson that says in the special education world, double dosing is something that looks highly effective. If you’ve got a student who basically has some kind of learning disability, that rather than do team teaching or have a lot of expensive aides, that they might just need more time with the reading or more time with math, and that can be quite effective.

Amber Northern:      The research on extended day is pretty compelling, right?

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. And I’m sure, look, it matters what do you with that time? Are the classes good? Are the teachers good? What’s happening during that time?

Andy Smarick:           And this was only in math, right?

Amber Northern:      Only in math.

Andy Smarick:           The interesting question, because all the research I know of says that reading games are so much harder to get because it’s just cumulative knowledge, you have to get so many hours. I wonder if there’s less of a fadeout effect when you do double dosing of reading because it just builds up your hours, your words, and so forth.

Mike Petrilli:             That’s a good question. Of course, look, I bet everything fades out, right?

Amber Northern:      Yeah.

Andy Smarick:           Sure.

Mike Petrilli:             There’s probably not a single reform that doesn’t fade out to some degree. That’s something we have to accept.

Amber Northern:      It’s not harming the kids, right?

Mike Petrilli:             Unless, the tradeoff, unless they’re missing something. But you know, if they’re missing underwater basket weaving, it’s probably not a huge problem.

Amber Northern:      Right.

Mike Petrilli:             Which I, by the way, got an A-plus in.

Andy Smarick:           Impressive again.

Mike Petrilli:             Thank you. All right, thank you, Amber. That is all the time we’ve got for this week’s show. Until next week …

Andy Smarick:           I am Andy Smarick.

Mike Petrilli:             And I’m Mike Petrilli, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.

Male:                          The Education Gadfly Show is a production of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute located in Washington D.C. For more information, visit us online at edexcellence.net.

Andy's odyssey: Part two

This series is wrestling with a set of related questions. Is education reform inherently anti-conservative? Are reformers behaving as though it is when it should be informed by conservatism? What have we wrought by stiff-arming conservatism? How might things be better if we sought counsel from conservatism?

One of the most important aspects of this inquiry relates to balancing change and preservation. A National Affairs article by Phillip Wallach and Justus Myers, “The Conservative Governing Disposition,” sheds valuable light on this issue and proves a helpful guide to understanding conservatism’s role in education reform.

The article describes the “conservative governing disposition,” an approach to policymaking that wonks and practitioners alike should understand. It also surfaces three issues that will be a recurring theme in this series.

Conservative governing disposition

The authors distinguish the conservative “disposition” from policy proposals—it’s an approach, not an agenda. It can be seen in the work of giants like Burke, Hume, Madison, Hamilton, Hayek, and de Tocqueville. One scholar described it as more of a “temperament (and) less an articulate philosophy.”

Wallach and Myers write, “Conservatism starts with the premise that social practices, habits, and institutions...

Eva Myrick Chiang

Imagine reading this job advertisement:

WANTED: Credentialed professional with at least a master’s degree to run a school. Will work on average fourteen hours per day or more, six days per week, and be on call twenty-four hours a day most days of the year. Must handle pressure and stress well—oh, and the pay isn’t that great, either.

In many places across the United States, this is the type of workload we demand of our school leaders. Each and every one of our schools desperately needs a talented, competent leader, but what intelligent person would sign up for that job?

It’s time for us to have an extreme makeover in what we expect from our school principals. Traditionally, principals were seen as building managers and disciplinarians. They made sure that the lights were on and that everyone was following the rules. But the role has changed, and the needs of our students demand that we now have visionary instructional leaders running our schools.

This change of roles can be problematic for districts because, well, the lights still need to be turned on, payroll still has to be processed, and buildings still have maintenance issues. That is why we now...

For decades, much ado has been made over parental involvement in schools. Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), as part of the 2012 Cleveland Plan For Transforming Schools, requires by law that all parents meet with their child’s teacher by December of every school year. About 75 percent of elementary school and 60 percent of high school students had a parent meet with their child’s teacher this past school year, the first covered by the new law. District administrators call these numbers “pretty impressive” (at least at the elementary level), but the outcomes resulting from mandating parental involvement are unclear. For starters, it’s impossible to compare the totals to previous year’s totals or even to other districts’ totals, including those of suburban counterparts, since the state doesn’t require them to keep track of parent-teacher conference attendance. Despite the good intentions of the Cleveland mandate, a question remains: is there an academic benefit to this kind of parental involvement?

The answer is complicated. Some types of involvement, such as reading to elementary students at home, discussing school activities or college plans, and requesting a particular teacher, do yield positive results. But other common practices, like helping with homework, usually don’t alter...

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