Governance

Michael Winerip is on a roll. After a good piece of reporting on the Atlanta cheating scandal a couple of weeks ago, he has turned in a solid story about the testing mess rolling into Pennsylvania. ?As Winerip notes, the Pennsylvania scandal came to light on July 8, when The Notebook, a small Philadelphia-based education newspaper, reported that some 60 schools in the state, including 22 in the City of Brotherly Love had unusually high test erasure marks, a sign of test tampering.? Winerip says it is 89 schools, with 28 in Philly, but the eye-popping story here is that the Pennsylvania Department of Education had actually commissioned the study which was the basis of the July 8 story. It received the report in July of 2009, ?and, it would appear, ?sat on it until The Notebook was tipped off about it.? That's the scandal here.

And Winerip suggests that PDE's initial response to the latest news ?is not encouraging:

State officials have directed school districts and charter schools with suspicious results to investigate themselves.

This, of course, is another startling reminder of the inability of the system to police itself.? As Winerip points out, it took years of dogged reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the state took the charges seriously.

But these cheating scandals appear to be the tip of a rather large iceberg, one which suggests (if I may change metaphors) that the line between bureaucratic indolence and criminality is indeed...

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Jeff Smink's New York Times essay, ?This is Your Brain on Summer,? about summer learning loss, makes me think of my childhood summers in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley, where I am now vacationing. ?Our summers then (a few decades ago) began in late May, when we were let out of school to help bring in the local strawberry crop.? I can't recall if there was an age limit, but seven-years-old was not too early to begin your summer job, especially if you had older brothers and sisters to lift you aboard the flatbed trucks (or the idled yellow school buses chartered by some of the farmers). ?It helped that some of the same people who worked in the schools were there to chaperone our endeavors -- these were field trips with a purpose. Our mother was up at 4:30, making sack lunches, would wake us at 5, feed us our Cheerios or pancakes, and hot chocolate, and hustle us out the door by 5:30 to meet the truck (or bus), a half mile away. ?We worked the fields, generally, four to six hours a day, four or five days a week for four to six weeks.? We had fun ? and made some money. After the strawberries were harvested, the taller kids among us ? those who could reach five foot high ? would help bring in the string bean crop.? That took you through August. ?Back to school in September.

Smink, the vice president for policy for...

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Today's Times (unless you read it online yesterday or the day before), covers some fertile educational ground in three important arenas.

A Little Shakespeare in Welding Class, Please! The deep recession has exposed a few education ribs in the nation's torso the last couple of years. And Motoko Rich has an excellent report about the impact budget cutbacks are having on the technical and trade schools.

The administration has proposed a 20 percent reduction in its fiscal 2012 budgdet for career and technical education, to a little more than $1 billion, even as it seeks to increase overall education funding by 11 percent.

The silver lining ? and best part of the story -- is toward the end, when Rich addresses the problem, as she writes, that ?the skills that employers most frequently say are in shortest supply are critical thinking, the ability to work in teams and communication, not specialized training.? ??She cites a Pioneer Institute study pointing out that manuals for many of these trade jobs, like plumbing and auto mechanics, require Grade 14 reading level and that more technical schools are realizing that even kids destined for blue-collar and busted-knuckle jobs should know how to read and write.

On the Avenue Seeing Benno Schmidt with hard-hat in hand does not mean that the former president of Yale is opening a trade school ? especially when he's standing next to education entrepreneur Chris Whittle and media executive Alan Greenberg.? What...

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It would be ironic if America's world-wide cultural domination ? music, fashion, film, technology ? included its dumbed down school ethos. That's what it looks like is happening in South Korea, as the government there announced the country's abandonment of Saturday school. This is just after Sam Dillon reported (in the New York Times) that American schools, wracked? by budget woes, are cutting class time back even more:

After several years of state and local budget cuts, thousands of school districts across the nation are gutting summer-school programs, cramming classes into four-day weeks or lopping days off the school year, even though virtually everyone involved in education agrees that American students need more instruction time.

This could be the perfect storm for the Save Our Schools marchers, who might want to add this chant to their July 30 Washington protest repertoire: Dumber Down and Dumber Dee!? Dumber Down and Dumber Dee!

In all seriousness, I hope the folks rallying in oppressively muggy D.C.? later this month? ?for justice in education? include in their request of our education policymakers something tangible for the tens of thousands of American children not being educated by our current system. If we need to solve poverty first, then I would hope they please desist with the calls for more money for schools.? If they want more money for schools, then I would advise that they quit with the solve-poverty-first mantra.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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Democracy Prep is expanding in a novel way next school year ? by taking over a failing charter school at its authorizer's behest. SUNY was set to deny Harlem Day Charter School's charter but instead asked for proposals to turn the school around. Democracy Prep stepped up.

It's a huge risk. By and large, turnarounds are unsuccessful. For Democracy Prep, which had the city's highest progress report score for a middle school last year, this would be its first attempt at a turnaround. In New York City, the Bloomberg administration has relied largely on shutting failing schools down and re-starting from scratch, a method that critics say disperses the neediest children and destabilizes communities. Under Mr. Lambert's plan, the students stay put, and the management and board are wiped out.

It's great to see "acquisitions" like this one. Democracy Prep is a solid performer, and this gives them a new school complete with kids, parent and community recognition, and some momentum. Clearly it comes with challenges as well, however, with more than 40% of their kids being held back to repeat a grade. The question this raises for me is, why do we wait to talk about these kinds of takeovers until a school is failing?

Entrepreneurs, charter school founders among them, start businesses for many reasons. Not all of them are great long-term managers. Instead, what the most successful of them have is a keen sense of the needs of customers and stakeholders and the ability...

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After the sweetness-and-nice between New York State Education Department (NYSED) and the New York State United Teachers ?(NYSUT) to win $700 million from the federal Race to the Top fund last year (see my Education Next story), NYSUT yesterday sued the state's Board of Regents and NYSED's acting commissioner John King over the decision last May to ratchet up the importance of student test scores in a teacher's annual evaluation.

Rick Karlin of the Albany Times Union, says it's the first time in four decades that NYSUT has sued the Regents, which isn't surprising since NYSUT is used to getting its way (see this 2008 NYSUT victory pronouncement).? According to Karlin, ?NYSUT initially agreed to a plan in which improvement in state-issued tests would count for 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation. But that was later increased to 40 percent, which NYSUT contends came out of the blue.?

The union's precipitous fall from grace was made painfully apparent when even the Democratic Governor, traditionally a NYSUT ally, weighed in on the matter. In fact, Andrew Cuomo helped move the student score needle up, writing in a letter to the Regents just before their May vote, ?This change would ensure that greater balance is struck between using objective teacher evaluation measures?and subjective teacher evaluation measures.?

Ouch.

In a press release from the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, Jason Brooks calls the suit ?an act of desperation?:

The state legislative session has

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While everyone is following New Jersey's public union bombshell vote, my friend E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center in Albany reports on a new maneuver by the New York State United Teachers to end run? the property tax cap being promoted by new Governor Andrew Cuomo.? ?As McMahon says, the cap is not even through the state legislature yet and NYSUT is trying to circumvent it:

An egregious fiscal abuse on its own terms, the bill (S.4067-A) would allow school districts across the state (except for New York City) to issue 15-year bonds to cover a portion of their rising teacher pension costs over the next several years ? at least $1 billion in all, by one estimate.? The measure was introduced two months ago at the behest of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) as a way of reducing pressure on teachers to make contract concessions.

The drama in Albany continues.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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