A venerable maxim of successful organizational management declares that an executive's authority should be commensurate with his or her responsibility. In plain English, if you are held to account for producing certain results, you need to be in charge of the essential means of production.

watch out for children on see-saws
There's a serious imbalance between a principal's accountability and authority.
 Photo by Kat.

In American public education today, however, that equation is sorely unbalanced. A school principal in 2012 is accountable for student achievement, for discipline, for curriculum and instruction, and for leading (and supervising) the staff team, not to mention attracting students, satisfying parents, and collaborating with innumerable other agencies and organizations.

Yet that same principal controls only a tiny part of his school's budget, has scant say over who teaches there, practically no authority when it comes to calendar or schedule, and minimal leverage over the curriculum itself. Instead of deploying all available school assets in ways that would do the most good for the most kids, the principal...

Guest blogger David Harris is the founder and chief executive officer of The Mind Trust, a nonprofit that is driving innovative K-12 education reform in Indianapolis. Under his leadership, The Mind Trust recruits proven programs to Indianapolis, incubates life-changing schools and initiatives, and develops bold plans for systemic change. Since its launch in 2006, The Mind Trust has impacted 37,500 students through its work and raised twenty-seven million dollars.

The Mind Trust's goal is to ensure every child in Indianapolis has the opportunity to receive an excellent education. We believe that dramatically increasing the number of high-quality schools in our city is critical to this mission.

The need for more high-quality public schools in Indianapolis is sizable. Less than half of students in the city’s largest district, Indianapolis Public Schools, meet basic state standards on both math and English portions of Indiana’s standardized test. Less than two-thirds graduate on time.

The need for more high-quality public schools in Indianapolis is sizable.

The charter schools authorized by the Indianapolis mayor’s office have made significant strides at boosting student outcomes. On average last year, those charter schools exceeded the...

How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar

How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar

READ "How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar"

Despite some signs of economic recovery, school districts nationwide continue to struggle mightily. Nobody expects economic growth—or education spending—to rebound to 2008 levels over the next five years, and the long-term outlook isn't much brighter.

In short, the "new normal" of tougher budget times is here to stay for American K-12 education. So how can local officials cope?

In my new policy brief, I argue that the current crunch may actually present an opportunity to increase the efficiency and productivity of our education system if decision makers keep a few things in mind:

First and foremost, solving our budget crisis shouldn't come at the expense of children. Nor can if come from teachers' sacrifice alone. Depressing teachers' salaries forever isn't a recipe for recruiting bright young people into education—or retaining the excellent teachers we have. Finally, quick fixes aren't a good answer; we need fundamental changes that enhance productivity.

So how can school districts dramatically increase productivity and stretch the school dollar?

One, we should aim for a leaner, more productive, better paid workforce. Let's ask classroom teachers to take on additional responsibility in return for greater pay, eliminate some ancillary positions, and redesign our approach to special education.

Two, we should pay for productivity. A redesigned compensation system would include a more aggressive salary schedule, more pay for more work and better results, and prioritization of salaries over benefits.

Three, we must integrate technology thoughtfully. Online and "blended" school models are coming to K-12 education. They can be catalysts for greater pupil engagement, individualization, and achievement and, if organized right, they can also be opportunities for cost-cutting.

Many districts continue to face budget challenges of historic proportions. Rather than slashing budgets in ways that erode schooling, let's rethink who we hire, what they do, how we pay them, and how to incorporate technology—that's where the big payoff is.

The Education Gadfly Podstagram

Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.

Amber's Research Minute

Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit

The Tartans: The Story of the Sciotoville Community Schools

The Tartans: The Story of the Sciotoville Community Schools





Most charter schools nationwide serve urban communities, this documentary provides a look at the challenges and successes of a rural Appalachian charter school.

The Tartans is the unique story of Portsmouth East High School in South Eastern Ohio. Portsmouth City school district was going to close the facility in 2000 until the community rallied to form a charter school and keep the school from shutting its doors.

The Fordham Foundation has sponsored Sciotoville Community School and Sciotoville Elementary Academy's since July 2011.

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

Mark Anderson is a special education teacher in the Bronx. He is originally from California and still trying to convince himself that skyscrapers are equivalent to mountains. Follow Mark on Twitter @mandercorn or on his blog Schools as Ecosystems.

From where I sit—as a special education teacher in East Tremont in the Bronx—it looks to me like the same issues that plague my public school and district plague the school system at large.

It's rare that content knowledge, pedagogical wisdom, or other experiential knowledge is transferred between classrooms, let alone between schools or between districts. It does happen, when those few teachers that establish meaningful relationships with one another talk about a lesson, or ask to borrow something, or ask for help when they are struggling with a concept. But it doesn’t happen often enough.

One would think that this sort of meaningful transfer of information would occur as a result of professional development or prep period time, but professional development largely seems to stand for "paying some institution lots of money so it can come and tell us how to teach." It's rare that anything that is...

First thing in my email inbox this morning was an “Advocacy Alert” from the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA): It was the “2012 Resolution Kit,” a kickoff notice to get the wheels rolling so that NYSSBA presents a united front in lobbying the state legislature. This was a rather tame “alert,” as these things go. Others have had a Whitney Tilson quality: “Free the Schools!” or “Full Court Press!” or “Mandate Relief? Give us a break!”

Like many such organizations, NYSSBA can be wordy and bureaucratic, but I was happy to see that this year’s kit included a statement that “the Association currently lacks resolutions addressing some of public education's most pressing issues” and that “examples of issues that lack the support or opposition of a NYSSBA resolution are:

  • How the state will address the rising costs of energy and health care and the impact on local taxes.
  • Whether or not charter schools should be allowed to join NYSSBA or receive NYSSBA services.
This resolution signals a major move forward on the part of an organization that tends to be resolutely establishment.

The second resolution signals a major move forward on the part of an...

John Chubb is CEO of Leeds Global Partners and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution where he is a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He is co-author with Terry Moe of Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education and author of "Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning."

If a public school student wants to take an Advanced Placement course from Apex Learning, a respected provider of online AP instruction, who should determine whether the student may do so? Today, the answer is almost uniformly, the local school board (or charter board) that governs the student’s school. Should it be so?

States have long delegated to local boards the authority to determine how students satisfy state standards such as graduation requirements. If a student wants to meet a state standard by some means other than what his or her school is offering, local board policies determine whether the student may. This makes a certain amount of sense. Students and families may want an option of dubious academic value.

But boards may decide these matters with more on...

John Kirtley
Chairman of Step Up for Students

Guest blogger John Kirtley is the founder of two private equity firms in Tampa, FL. He is the chairman of Step Up For Students, a non-profit that administers the tax credit scholarship program and which now empowers the parents of nearly 40,000 low income Florida children who attend a private school of their choice, and of the Florida Federation for Children, a "527" political organization active in Florida legislative races. He is vice chair of the American Federation For Children, a national parental choice advocacy organization, and also a board member of the Florida Charter School Alliance and the Hillsborough County (Tampa) Education Foundation.

The most important governance question is: “Will low income and working class parents truly direct the taxpayer dollars used to educate their children?”

The definition of “public education” is changing rapidly, even if some don’t want it to. It used to mean giving taxpayer dollars solely to districts to operate all schools, where kids are assigned by zip code. The emerging definition, which I prefer, is using taxpayer dollars to educate children in the best way possible for each of them,...