Governance

Ohio’s urban school districts, like many others across the country, face a slow burning governance crisis. Elected school boards in cities like Columbus, Dayton and Youngstown are proving incapable of providing the leadership their cities, schools, families and children need to be successful. In Dayton, for example, long-time board member Yvonne Isaacs summed up the challenge when she told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2012, “There is really no continuity in terms of the vision and the direction of the district…I think what we have lost is the ability to collaborate and to set vision.” Youngstown’s dysfunction is legendary and it faces a state takeover.

But, no city in Ohio displays better the dysfunctionality of big city elected school boards than does Columbus. Columbus City Schools is a district in turmoil. Mayor Michael Coleman spelled out the challenges in a recent Columbus Dispatch op-ed thusly:

“The children of Columbus City Schools need our help. Forty-seven percent of kids enrolled in the district attend schools receiving a D or F grade by the Ohio Department of Education, while just 21 percent go to A or B schools. The district ranks near the very bottom statewide in terms of how much a student learns in a given year.

State and federal investigations into allegations of student-data manipulation hang like a black cloud over the district. The results threaten to further lower the academic-performance scores of our schools, and administrators could face indictment.

Our schools are at a crossroads. If...

Categories: 
  • According to news reports, New Jersey governor Chris Christie is on the verge of announcing that the state will take over the deeply troubled Camden school district. During my tenure with the NJDOE, though the state controlled aspects of three other districts, Camden was always at or near the front of our minds. The condition of the city, especially the state of its schools, is as tragic as I’ve seen. Decades of nationwide experience demonstrate that state takeovers of districts are beset by a long list of challenges—educational, financial, political, and organizational. But if there’s any Governor bold enough to push through the obstacles, it’s Chris Christie. And if there’s any state chief with the brain, heart, and backbone to make it work, it’s my old boss, Chris Cerf. There are tough days, weeks, and months ahead, I’m sure, but I’m confident that this is in the best interest of Camden’s long underserved boys and girls.
  • If you like data—especially if you’re in the “data-driven-decision-making-can-solve-everything!” camp—this story from the NYT Metropolitan section is definitely worth a read. Actually, if you’re worried about the pronounced use of data in education—especially if you’re in the “we’re-turning-our-kids-into-widgets!” camp—you probably want to read it, too. The first few paragraphs about identifying oil-dumping scofflaws pretty much summarize the piece: If we collect enough data and analyze it the right way, heavens, the problems we can solve. Lots of people nowadays talk about using interim assessment data to improve instruction, change class
  • ...
Categories: 

Richard (Dick) Ross was sworn into today by state board of education president Debe Terhar as Ohio’s 37th State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The ceremony took place at the Reynoldsburg City High School (just east of Columbus). Dr. Ross takes over the leadership reigns of the Ohio Department of Education after serving as Governor Kasich’s director of 21st Century Education for the last two years. While in the Governor’s office Ross helped to craft the state’s A-F report card, the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee, and the new school funding plan being debated in the legislature.

Ross is the fourth state superintendent in two years, and enters the department during a time of change, challenges and opportunity. Ohio is revamping its school funding system, implementing new academic standards through the Common Core in English Language Arts and Mathematics, new standards in science and social studies, and putting into place new assessments through PARCC. Ohio is also a school choice hotbed, and is expected to see continued growth in both charter school students and students receiving public vouchers to attend private schools. These programs are under much scrutiny and could use improvements to their accountability and oversight.

Much of the department’s senior leadership has turned over in recent years and a big part of Ross’ early efforts will need to be around building his senior leadership team. He is the man for the job as his entire professional career has been defined...

Categories: 

I usually keep two books going at once. I like to find the connections and divergences between seemingly unrelated texts.

Recently, I’ve been making my way through a biography of Catherine the Great and the autobiography of Frederick Douglass.

Going in, I figured the brain-candy thread tying the two together would be the dissimilarities between their nearly contemporary lives: Douglass (1818–95) born into American slavery, eventually escaping, becoming a leading abolitionist and statesman; Catherine (1729–96) born into German nobility, marrying into Russian royalty, ruling for more than 30 years.

But as it turns out, the stories of these historical giants have three associations particularly relevant to our work.

Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great tried to end serfdom—but eventually grew acclimated to power.
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons

First, though she was spectacularly wealthy—casually distributing estates, amassing the largest art collection in Europe’s history—Catherine tried to end the abomination of serfdom. As the book recounts, “The conditions of Russian serfs resembled that of black slaves in America.”

It is striking how two people from such disparate backgrounds could be compelled to advocate for the same moral cause. Douglass lived the horror: He had no knowledge of his age and was separated from mother in infancy. He was often awakened in morning by “the most heartrending shrieks” of slaves...

Categories: 

When charter schools first emerged more than two decades ago, they presented an innovation in public school governance. No longer would school districts enjoy the “exclusive franchise” to own and operate public schools, as chartering pioneer and advocate Ted Kolderie explained. Charters wouldn’t gain all of the independence of private schools—they would still report to a publicly accountable body, or authorizer—but they would be largely freed from the micromanagement of school boards, district bureaucracies, and union contracts. Autonomy, in exchange for accountability, would reign supreme.

Over the course of its twenty-year history, however, American education and its charter school sector have evolved in important ways. One of the significant ways is school governance—not a topic that gets a lot of attention but, as it turns out, a crucial one that is overdue for an overhaul (and not just in the charter sector).

The growth of nonprofit charter networks (CMOs), the ubiquity of for-profit school-management companies (EMOs), and the emergence of “virtual” charter schools have all upended the notion that charters would mostly be freestanding “community-based” schools of the “one-off” variety. Yet the public policies and practices that characterize charter governance haven’t kept pace with these real-world changes.

To examine this mismatch more closely and consider how it might be set right, we interviewed nearly two dozen analysts, authorizers, board members, and practitioners with interest in and knowledge of charter schools. Not one of them felt that the inherited assumptions and regulations about governance in the charter sector are truly well...

A useful new report from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation underscores the painful divide between parents and education reformers on the crucial topic of what to do about bad schools.

School hallway
Schools play many roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those.
Photo by hundrednorth

In a nutshell, if the neighborhood school is crummy, parents want it fixed. So do community leaders. Ed reformers are far more apt to want to close it and give families alternatives such as charter schools.

As Andy Smarick has perceptively written, schools play multiple roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those. Hence, shuttering a school affects more than the convenience of keeping one’s own kids in a familiar (and generally close-at-hand) facility, maybe even with that nice Ms. Greensleeves who teaches fourth grade there. As Jean Johnson writes on behalf of Public Agenda, based on a recent series of focus groups (as well as much other research), “Most parents see local public schools as important community institutions and viscerally reject the idea that closing schools—even those that are persistently low-performing—is a good way to improve accountability in education.”

On the reform side, however, Johnson writes, “In many communities, school leaders are closing or drastically reorganizing low-performing schools. Many districts are turning to...

Categories: 
  • The U.S. Department of Education just announced more SIG money going out the door. At a TBFI event late last year, the Department and I tussled about the results to date, which showed that more than a third of participating schools (already among the lowest performing in the nation) had gotten worse despite this multi-BILLION dollar program. I sadly predicted these grim results several years ago—not because I’m clairvoyant but because stacks of research over decades showed that turnarounds aren’t a reliable or scalable strategy for generating more high-quality seats. But the Department remains bullish; the release says, “Early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools.”

    Many of us are looking forward to thoroughly analyzing the program’s effects, but we’ve been in a holding pattern. The Department still hasn’t released school-level results from Year 1 yet (even though those tests were given two years ago), and we’ve not yet received any results from Year 2 (even though those tests were given a year ago). Forgive the quick snark, but maybe we just have to wait until close of business on the Friday before Thanksgiving week again to get results.

  • If you follow the common-assessments consortia, make sure to read this post by Catherine Gewertz about PARCC’s and SB’s plans to maintain financial sustainability when federal dollars run out. This is just one of the many, many, many reasons to fret about Common Core–aligned tests. Need more?
  • ...
Categories: 

GadflyA fierce school-choice debate rages in Alabama—but the threat to the Common Core standards has receded, for now. When it became clear that the Senate Education Committee would not approve a bill to revoke the Heart of Dixie’s commitment to the standards, the sponsor of the bill himself withdrew it from consideration. This is well and good. Now maybe they can get back to safeguarding the separation of powers—and implementing the Common Core.

South Dakota has the (dubious) honor of being the first state to explicitly authorize school employees to carry guns to work. State groups representing teachers and school boards expressed concern that the bill had been rushed to a vote, did not actually make schools safer, and ignored other approaches to safety, such as employing armed officers. In related news, a Texas school employee recently shot himself at a concealed-carry class for teachers.

Boston has approved a new school-assignment plan that reflects not just geography but also school quality—amounting to the greatest change in the way that the city assigns students in twenty-five years and “finally dismantling the remnants of the notorious [1970s] busing plan.” Mike Petrilli is optimistic; for his take, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

The opposition to KIPP DC’s plan to build a new high school is indicative of challenges that most charter schools face: Its future neighbors...

Categories: 

America’s fragmented, decentralized, politicized, and bureaucratic system of education governance is a major impediment to school reform. In Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform, a number of leading education scholars, analysts, and practitioners show that understanding the impact of specific policy changes in areas such as standards, testing, teachers, or school choice requires careful analysis of the broader governing arrangements that influence their content, implementation, and impact.

Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century comprehensively assesses the strengths and weaknesses of what remains of the old in education governance, scrutinizes how traditional governance forms are changing, and suggests how governing arrangements might be further altered to produce better educational outcomes for children.

Paul Manna, Patrick McGuinn, and their colleagues provide the analysis and alternatives that will inform attempts to adapt nineteenth and twentieth century governance structures to the new demands and opportunities of today.

* Copublished with the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress

Categories: 

Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century

What is Education Governance?

The greatest failing of education reformers in the U.S. this past quarter century has been their neglect of governance and structure—widely regarded either as politically impractical to touch or as too boring to get anyone interested. Yet the very structures and governance of our K–12 system often prevent other badly needed changes from taking place, enduring, or succeeding.

Recent months, however, have seen some cracks in the governance glacier with a spate of new books, articles, and conferences on the topic—meaning this set of reform challenges is no longer taboo to discuss or to tackle.

In an earnest effort to advance this crucial conversation, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute—in partnership with the Center for American Progress and the Brookings Institution Press—is pleased to present Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform, edited by Paul Manna of the College of William and Mary and Patrick McGuinn of Drew University.

This important volume should be on the desk or bedside of every serious education reformer and policymaker in the land.

Featuring chapters by education scholars, analysts, and battle-scarred practitioners, it closely examines our present structures, identifies their failings, and offers some penetrating ideas for how governance might be done differently.

All serious reform victories begin with battles over ideas. In that spirit, we urge you to spend some quality time with this book. Overhauling our dysfunctional education-governance arrangements is a key priority for us at Fordham—and will inevitably loom among the hottest and most consequential issues for all serious reformers in the years to come.

Pages