Ending the AEI lockout

Mike and Rick come out swinging after their
Thanksgiving respites. In Pardon the Gadfly, they attack our current governance
model, sympathize with Newt Gingrich, and consider what to do about private
donations to public schools. Amber brings autonomy down to the school level and
Chris requests a State of State Moral Standards.

Click to watch the webcast of our event on education governanceDespite America’s
romantic attachment to “local control of public education,” the reality is that
the way it works today offers a worst-of-both-worlds scenario. On the one hand,
district-level power constrains individual schools; its standardizing,
bureaucratic, and political force ties the hands of principals, stopping them
from doing what’s best for their pupils with regard to budget, staffing, and
curriculum. On the other, local control isn’t strong enough to clear the
obstacles that state and federal governments place before reform-minded board
members and superintendents in the relatively few locales where these can even
be observed.

Sure, remarkable
individuals can sometimes make it work, at least for a while: Michelle Rhee
(backed by Adrian Fenty) in the District of Columbia; Joel Klein (backed by
Michael Bloomberg) in New York City; Arne Duncan (backed by Richard Daley) in
Chicago; Jerry Weast (abetted by a rising budget) in Montgomery County,
Maryland. Readers can surely cite additional examples. But these are the
exceptions that prove the rule.

The rule is that
education-policy decisions are made in so many places—each with some capacity
to initiate change but with even greater capacity to block it—that there’s
really nobody “in charge.” Some will say that’s a tribute to our traditions of
democratic control, checks and balances, pluralism, and federalism. Others...

As education governance rises on the policy
agenda, should American reformers be looking toward greater decentralization or
centralization—or a judicious mix of both? Eric Hanushek, Susanne Link, and
Ludger Woessmann argue that, in a country like the U.S., greater school-level
autonomy offers the best shot at boosting student achievement. Using the four
available rounds of PISA data (2000-09), the trio compared achievement in forty-two
countries with their levels of school-based autonomy, as reported by principals.
(Specifically, they analyzed autonomy of academic content, personnel decisions,
and budget allocations.) Dividing the countries up by GDP per capita, the
authors find that developed nations tend to see spikes in student achievement
when school autonomy increases, while scores in developing countries drop with
greater decentralization. Autonomy works when local leaders have both
an interest in making decisions that benefit students and the capacity to do
so. The stronger governmental institutions and the rule of law, the logic goes,
the more likely leaders are to align their interests to those of their
students. Thus, in richer countries, pairing greater autonomy with test-based
accountability magnified the bump in scores. In short, how education is
governed matters for students. But we told you that already.


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Reading Thomas Friedman in this morning’s New York Times,
I couldn’t help but think of the Shel Silverstein classic, “Clarence
Lee from Tennessee,” a 1993 poem suggesting that kids could trade in
their parents for new ones.

Clarence Lee from Tennessee
Loved the commercials he saw on TV.
He watched with wide believing eyes
And bought everything they advertised

I used to read this to the kids whom I tutored in reading and also
brought it with me to classrooms, to share with whole groups of
students.  The poem introduced these youngsters to narrative rhyme —
and  the ubiquity and charms of advertising:

Powder for his doggie’s fleas,
Toothpaste for his cavities,
Stylish jeans that fit much tighter.
Bleach to make his white things whiter
Spray to make his hair look wetter
Cream to make his skin feel better

It was a set-up, of course, to the punchline: parents were just like
toothpaste: trade ‘em in for better ones. And, of course, it was funny
because the kids Silverstein addressed actually loved their parents,
despite the fact that they made them do things they didn’t want to do,
such as go to school, read, do homework, take the garbage out.

But I eventually stopped reading the poem in my school, as I realized
that its punch line — that the kids could trade their parents in for

Bob Bowdon
Founder of Choice Media

Guest blogger Bob Bowdon is the founder of Choice Media, a non-profit education news service, and directed the award-winning documentary “The Cartel.” In this post, he responds to the debate touched off by Mike’s argument against school boards in Monday’s “Dealing with disingenuous teacher unions: There are no shortcuts.”

was intrigued to see the democracy defense offered by the
Establishment Reactionary Dynamic Duo of Ravitch & Weingarten, as
if to say it’s okay to sentence children to chronically failing and
dangerous schools, as long as unions succeed in getting the vote out on
off-peak election days.

Apart from the underpinnings of their logic, can we at least hope
that they’ll remain consistent in applying this “Democracy First”
philosophy no matter where the chips fall? Not so much.

When the elected legislature in Georgia authorized the state’s
chartering of schools, the Georgia Association of Educators union wasn’t
so happy with the voice of the people. They later filed a brief in
support of a lawsuit to strike down the law — and that suit prevailed.
Democracy be damned.

When elected leaders in Douglas County Colorado passed a voucher plan
this year, the Colorado Education Association union publicly opposed
the wishes of the local voters, with no apparent bout of misgivings over
democratic values.

When the Indiana legislature and governor passed a statewide...

Mike’s post
yesterday didn’t just ask whether unions have made local control
untenable—it also sparked some fascinating and spirited responses in the
comments section,
with Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch, Grant Wiggins, and many others
weighing in. Luckily, this conversation can continue in two weeks, when
the Fordham Institute and Center for American Progress team up to host “Rethinking Education Governance in the 21st Century.”
Luminaries from academia and the policy world will hash out the merits
of the various pillars of our current governance structure—from school
boards to mayoral control—and think through who should be charged with
governing our nation’s schools in the years to come. Time and space are
running low, so register now.

It’s hard to tell whether Joe Nocera’s op-ed essay in the New York Times last week, “Teaching With The Enemy,”
is wonderfully nuanced or just silly.  That’s surely what some
education observers might wonder about the notion that Randi Weingarten,
former head of New York City’s teacher union and current head of the
American Federation of Teachers, should be chancellor of New York City
schools.*  In fact, Nocera notes that he himself “nearly fell out of my
chair” when Steven Brill told him that Weingarten, who is “the enemy” of
Brill’s new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, threw him a book party.

This, of course, is vintage Weingarten, described by Nocera as
“whip-smart” and “politically savvy.”  But the larger question is what
happened to Brill, founder of American Lawyer and Court TV and a formidable presence in the New York media scene, on the way to the education repair shop?

Himself whip-smart and politically savvy, Brill made instant news when he took on the city’s teachers union in a 2009 New Yorker story
about the city’s notorious “rubber rooms,” where bad teachers went to
soak up full salaries while doing nothing.  In that story Brill
described Weingarten as such a ferocious defender of teachers that she
“would protect a dead body in the classroom.”  That was meant to suggest
that teacher unions weren’t so good for our kids....

Education Next

Hope Against HopeEver since Hurricane Katrina, the eyes of education reform proponents and opponents have been on New Orleans, site of one of the most dramatic public school overhauls in American history. Veteran journalist Sarah Carr has been there through the ups and downs, reporting on the reforms for the Times-Picayune. Now she tells the story in her book debut, Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children.

In this installment of the Education Next book club, host Mike Petrilli talks with Sarah about the successes and failures of New Orleans-style reform, and what it means for the rest of the country.

Additional installments of the Ed Next Book Club podcast can be heard here.

This piece originally appeared on the Ed Next blog.

The headline in the Daily News was a shocker: ?New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl? Tisch blasts Mayor Bloomberg's school reforms: Calls some schools `warehouses' for poor-performing students.?

It's too early to know whether Tisch's visit to Automotive High School in Brooklyn, where, says the News report, ?just 1 % of students graduated ready for college last year,? will lead to anything.

But the Times gave the story a slightly different twist: ?Regents Chief Says No to a Run for Mayor.?? Interesting.

Times reporter Fernanda Santos says that ?the buzz? about the outspoken (and rich) chancellor running for NYC mayor had been around for weeks.? The last time Tisch was asked about rumors of? an education shakeup in the Empire State, last summer, on an Albany radio show, she dropped the bomb that David Steiner was resigning as commissioner of education. (See my Ed Next story from this summer.) ?Not this time.? Tisch ?categorically denied? the rumors, says the Times.

More interesting, perhaps, is the story of Tisch's visit to Automotive High, during which she was accompanied by the state's new commissioner of education, John King. The visit actually took place a couple of weeks ago. ?And Tisch remarked:

Where do you think these kids are going? They have no education and they aren't getting one?? I'm not saying they're going to be college- and career-ready; I'm not a fool. So put a G.E.D. program in there; teach them skills.


Ohio’s electorate soundly
rejected Issue 2
(the referendum on Senate Bill 5) on Tuesday. As almost
everyone knows, that statute made significant changes to collective bargaining
for public employees in the Buckeye State. The most controversial bits included
changes to binding arbitration (to give management the right to impose its last
best offer), a ban on strikes by public employees, and elimination of seniority
as the sole factor for determining who should be laid off when cutbacks are

Though teachers and their unions were most definitely
included—both in Senate Bill 5 and in the frantic, well-funded ($30 million) effort
to persuade voters to repudiate it—education-policy watchers outside Ohio may
not appreciate the extent to which this was really a referendum on policemen,
firemen, and other “first responders” in the public sector. They and their
unions were covered by the measure, too, and played the lead role—and by far
the most visible role—in the campaign to undo it. There is, in fact, every
reason to believe that if the first responders hadn’t been involved, Senate Bill
5 would have survived Election Day.


On the same ballot, Ohio voters
repudiated Republican plans to restructure collective bargaining in the
Buckeye State and the big plans of