Governance

Creating Opportunity Schools coverThrough this report (prepared by Public Impact),
The Mind Trust proposes a dramatic transformation of public education in
Indianapolis, akin to the structural changes that have taken place in New
Orleans and New York City. It observes that great schools across the country
share a set of core conditions that enable them to help all students achieve.
Among these core conditions are the freedom to build and manage their own
teams, refocus resources to meet actual student needs, hold schools accountable
for their results(and close those that don’t perform), and create a system of
school choice that empowers parents to find schools that they want their
children to attend. To create success in the public schools of Indianapolis
(IPS), the Mind Trust proposes these bold moves: shift funding from the central
office to schools; give high-performing schools autonomy over staffing,
budgets, and curriculum; provide parents with more good choices; unite all
public schools under a new banner of quality called Opportunity Schools; and
allow the mayor and the City-County Council to appoint the IPS school board,. We
at Fordham are cheering for the Mind Trust and its reform-minded allies. Not
only will their success or failure resonate in Indiana but also across the
Midwest and probably beyond.

This piece originally
appeared
(in a slightly different form) on Fordham’s
Flypaper...

The central problem besetting K-12 education in the United
States today is still—as for almost thirty years now—that far too few of our
kids are learning nearly enough for their own or the nation’s good. And the
gains we’ve made, though well worth making, have been meager (and largely
confined to math), are trumped by gains in other countries, and evaporate by
the end of high school.

From where I sit, the basic strategies
aren’t ill-conceived. Rather, they’ve been stumped, stymied, and
constrained by formidable barriers that are more or less built into the
K-12 system as we know it.

This much everybody knows. But unless we want to live out
the classic definition of insanity (“doing the same thing over again with the
expectation that it will produce a different result”), we need to focus
laser-like on the barriers that keep us from making major-league gains. If we
don’t break through (or circumnavigate) these barriers, academic achievement
will remain stagnant.

The barriers I’m talking about are not cultural issues,
parenting issues, demographic issues, or other macro-influences on educational
achievement. Those are all plenty real, but largely beyond the reach of public
policy. No, here I refer to obstacles that competent leaders and bold policymakers
could reduce or eradicate if they were serious.

How much difference would that really make? It’s possible,
of course, that we’re pursuing the wrong core strategies....

A new round of the popular education board game, Poverty Matters, began last week with a New York Times op-ed
by Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske, titled, “Class Matters: Why Won’t We
Admit It?”  (Interestingly, the essay is really about poverty, not
class, and the paper that Ladd wrote on which the essay is based is
titled Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence.  See also Kathleen Porter-Magee’s The `Poverty Matters’ Trap from last July’s Flypaper.)

Ladd and Fiske’s essay was one of those broadsides that spreads
through the teacher ranks like a brush fire. I received my email copy
from one of our district’s veteran teachers, a hard-working, dedicated
woman who rarely misses an opportunity to remind me that she and her
colleagues would be doing a fine job were it not for unmotivated kids
and their irresponsible parents.  And Diane Ravitch weighed in
calling to mind, in tune with the season, the story of Scrooge and Tiny
Tim, offering to “update this tale for today’s school reformers” by
calling attention to Ladd and Fiske’s op-ed. (Ravitch says she uses
Ladd’s Education and Poverty paper in her post.)

What I don’t understand in all of this is who exactly is claiming
that class (or poverty or parents or kids) doesn’t matter?  Ladd and
Fiske spend most of their essay stating the obvious: that socio-economic
circumstance matters to education outcomes....



voodoo doll photo

The power of the voodoo. Who do? You do. Do what?
Photo by Juha-Matti Herrala

2005’s hurricane catalyzed one of the largest
governance experiments in American education to date, as Louisiana implemented
its Recovery School District law under which it took responsibility for the
worst schools in the Big Easy (and a few others throughout the Bayou State).
While other state-takeover initiatives have seen mixed results, Louisiana’s push has yielded big upticks in student-test scores. Two reasons why
Louisiana’s initiative has fared well: It doesn’t get bogged down in the
schools’ day-to-day operations. (It offloads that responsibility onto school
leaders—where it belongs.) And it scraps the current edu-governance system (no
more school boards, locally elected or otherwise), giving site management over to
charter networks and other external providers. The idea has some converts:
Michigan (with
its Education Achievement System
) and Tennessee both recently announced the
creation of their own “recovery school districts” (though both remain in the
pilot stage). This slowly widening movement holds much promise: States can
offer management know-how and dedicated resources and can skirt district contracts that stymie creative school
models—without getting bogged down in local politics or bureaucracy. Successful
state takeovers...

While I’m still digesting the papers and footage from the recent day-long Rethinking Education Governance for the 21st Century
symposium (sponsored by Fordham and the Center for American Progress), I
want to call your attention to some intriguing outlier governance
events and stories.

First, on NPR recently,
CNN host Fareed Zakaria said that the Founders were so “obsessed with
the problem of absolute power” that they created an unworkable
government. “The system in Washington is so unwieldy that in order to
get everybody to agree, [it] would seem to take a miracle and would
perhaps take decades.” Is that good or bad?  (Checker and Mike
suggest that, as far as education governance goes, we’ve got to return
more powers to the states.) On the same NPR show, former Congressman
Mickey Edwards argued that the problem is not the Constitution – and the
governance structure it created – but the party system. Sure, you can
create an efficient government, like China, said Edwards, “the people
just get in the way.” He continued: “Well I think that’s nonsense. We
don’t need to change to a system that gives more power to the top…What
you want is more power in the people. You have to figure out what’s
denying them that power, whether it’s the political primary system [or]
whether it’s the redistricting system; figure out what the problems are
...

It wasn’t considered one of the top five moments of Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, according to the New York Times, but it should have been. After Romney attacked Gingrich for his Harvard proposal to put poor kids to work as school janitors (see my post last week) the new GOP front-runner, having taken some hits for his earlier  comments (see my friend, Bronx teacher Mark Anderson), proves himself an able barometer of public opinion, dropping the kids-as-janitors idea but not losing his direction:

Kids ought to be allowed to work parttime in school,
particularly in the poorest neighborhoods, both because they could use
the money — if you take one half of the New York janitors, who are
unionized and are paid more than the teachers. An entry-level janitor is
paid twice as much as an entry-level teacher. You take half the
janitors, you could give lots of poor kids work experience in the
cafeteria, the school library, in the front office and a lot of
different things. I’ll stay by the idea that young people ought to learn
how to work. Middle class kids do it routinely. We should give poor
kids the same chance to pursue happiness.

Yes, there was applause.

In fact, Gingrich continues to be the only Republican candidate talking seriously about education. (See home pages for Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum,...

School reforms abound today, yet even the boldest and most imaginative among them have produced—at best—marginal gains in student achievement. What America needs in the twenty-first century is a far more profound version of education reform. Instead of shoveling yet more policies, programs, and practices into our current system, we must deepen our understanding of the obstacles to reform that are posed by existing structures, governance arrangements, and power relationships. Yet few education reformers—or public officials—have been willing to delve into this touchy territory.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress have teamed up to tackle these tough issues and ask how our mostly nineteenth-century system of K-12 governance might be modernized and made more receptive to the innumerable changes that have occurred—and need to occur—in the education realm. We have commissioned fifteen first-rate analysts to probe the structural impediments to school reform and to offer provocative alternatives.
 

Downloads

  • Paper Abstracts
  • Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli: "The Failures of U.S. Education Governance Today"
  • Cynthia Brown: "Fractured Governance of Resources and the Need for a Coherent and Fair System of Funding to Support High-Quality Public Schools"
  • Michelle Davis: "Governance Challenges to Innovators within the System"
  • Marguerite Roza: "The Machinery that Drives Education-Spending Decisions Inhibits Better Uses of Resources"
  • Steven F. Wilson: "Governance Challenges to Innovators outside the System"
  • Jeffrey Henig: "The End of
  • ...
The Education Gadfly

While the first two sessions of last Thursday’s Fordham-CAP Rethinking Education Governance conference explored problems posed by the way America governs education, the afternoon panels focused on potential solutions. In the third session, Michael Minstrom, Barry Rabe, Richard Walley, and Paul Manna attempted to draw lessons for education governance from other sectors and countries.

In the final segment, Checker moderated a discussion of big-picture governance reforms that featured Paul Hill, Kenneth Meier, Jon Schnur, and Paul Pastorek.

For more, download drafts of participants’ papers and stream all the video from the conference, including Chris Cerf’s lunchtime keynote address, on the Education Gadfly’s YouTube channel.



baby bundled up photo

Drop some of those onerous layers, government!
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

For years, government has plastered new
regulations upon old, thickening the bureaucracy and making it ever harder to
move within its confines. In Colorado, for example, new rules for day-care
centers specify exactly how to execute nearly everything—including the number
of block sets (two) and the number of blocks (minimum of ten) needed in each
playroom. An anecdote, yes; but hyperbole or exception, no. Modern regulation,
as Common Good’s Philip Howard writes in the Wall Street Journal this week, “doesn’t just control undesirable practices—it
indiscriminately controls all the work of regulated entities,” arresting all
human discretion, good and bad. While the gut-wrench reaction is simply to blow
up the house, thick plaster and all, there’s a smarter way. Some old-fashioned
inputs are important (Colorado does
want to ensure that their day-care centers aren’t operating in window-less
basements filled with asbestos and chipping lead paint). But, Howard argues,
the majority of regulation should be outcomes-based. (Seattle is experimenting
with this
on the energy front now.) He’s right, as far as he goes, but may
have forgotten another key quality-control metric, articulated in our
recent paper on
...

Testimony prepared for delivery to the Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives, August 4, 1999.

Pages