Governance

Liam Julian

Some are less than pleased with Florida's governor, Rick Scott, who, it seems likely, let it be known to certain persons that he wanted a new state education commissioner. Eric Smith, the current commissioner, resigned this week, noting that he was leaving so Scott could have input ?on the type of leader to pursue his goals for education.? But there is dissent among those who sit on Florida's Board of Education, which appoints the commissioner (confused?); board Chairman T. Willard Fair of Miami, for instance, called Scott's actions on the issue ?distressing,? noting that Scott, since his inauguration in January, had not even met with Smith. Fair resigned from the board, and in so doing wrote, ?As my final act as Chairman, I reject Commissioner Smith's resignation.?

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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Liam Julian

Eric Smith, Florida's education commissioner since 2007, will resign at the end of the school year, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Smith did not give a precise reason for exiting but noted in a press release that it was time for the new governor, Rick Scott, ?to have input through the state board of education on the type of leader to pursue his goals.? Roberto Martinez, a member of that board, said that Smith ?has been the best commissioner of education in the country for the past three years, bar none!? But the governor, in a statement released by his office, was less enthusiastic: ?On behalf of the state of Florida, I thank him for his years of dedicated service.?

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Policy Fellow

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I emerged from our Board of Ed Curriculum Committee meeting yesterday smiling.? Despite agreement by Karl Wheatley and John Thompson, regular commenters on Flypaper, about the need to define curriculum before we start talking about it (see Curriculum Confusions), I was heartened by the fact that the dozen teachers and administrators sitting around?our conference table?didn't discuss the definition ? though I'm sure each had a different idea about what it was.? A few years ago, I would have been discouraged by that fact -- but?a few years ago the discussion would have gone like this: We don't have a curriculum. Yes we do. No we don't.? Then again,?a few years ago, we didn't even?have a Curriculum Committee!? As a friend of mine told me recently, you don't have to talk about Hirsch anymore.?

In fact, at the local level, in New York state and many other places, thanks to the tireless efforts of a generation of reformers ? I am lucky enough to have gotten to rub intellectual elbows with some of the best, at Fordham and Education Next and Core Knowledge ? the curricular train is finally on the tracks and pulling into a district near you. And guess what?? The teachers are so relieved!

For the first time in my district, teachers are talking about aligning content, vertically and horizontally. Okay, so it's just a reading textbook (Journeys), but it is the first time that K?6 teachers have ever used the same text!? And they...

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So what else is new?? Isn't this just the statistic that confirms the message of Nation at Risk or the flat NAEP scores for the last forty years?

The troubling?part of Arne Duncan's Capitol Hill testimony yesterday?is that he concludes from the dismal statistics ? that 80,000 of our 100,000 public schools are failing ? that it's the law's fault. ?This law is fundamentally broken, and we need to fix it this year,? he told the House education committee. We all know what ?this law? means: No Child Left Behind.

Harping about NCLB's tough love approach to school improvement has dogged the revolutionary bill almost from the beginning ? I say almost because it was at first hailed as a masterstroke of nonpartisanship. Under intense pushback from teachers and their unions, however that coalition quickly splintered along predictable partisan lines. Then came a host of nitpicking, from left and right, that has made the NCLB brand poisonous.? ???

The huge law no doubt has flaws. Liam says that ?a seminal problem? with it is ?its focus on race,? the infamous subgroup standard that has sent many schools to the proficiency woodshed. President Obama says we need to replace NCLB with ?a law that's more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids.?? Mike says??NCLB has done ?some good,? mostly for poor and minority students, but has had some ?unintended consequences,? including too much testing in too few subjects.? But the major benefit...

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The New York Times is on a roll with its education coverage, today reporting on everything from Obama in Boston to Rick Scott in Florida and rich schools in Bronxville.? And though I got slapped on the wrist yesterday by John Thompson for tweaking the purveyor of ?the best journalism in the world,? it is precisely because they are the best (according to Thompson, of course) that we watch them ? and, occasionally, critique them.

Florida Moves Teacher Bill Forward. It looks like new Sunshine state governor Rick Scott will right the wrong of his predecessor Charlie Crist, who vetoed a pioneering teacher evaluation reform bill last year ? what Andy Smarick called ?the most disappointing education policy decision by a major Republican officeholder in recent memory.?? The revived and revised bill, introduced by Florida legislator Erik Fresen, would link teacher evaluations to student performance, put new teachers on one-year contracts, and institute an evaluation system that would determine raises and firings. ??We are under siege,? the head of one teacher union told the Times. Yup. And it may be time for besieged teacher unions to start thinking of the besieged students who can't read or write.

A Merger in Memphis.? Voters in Memphis decided by a large margin on Tuesday to hand over the reins of their ?103,000-student public school system to their smaller -- ?47,000 students ? suburban neighbor in Shelby County, ?effectively,? as the Times reports, ?putting an end to...

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This important survey of Ohio school leaders shows a growing disconnect of opinion between the people who teach in our public schools and those who lead them. While many teachers and other school employees resist changes to collective bargaining laws and education reform measures, superintendents recognize the need for such changes and in fact are hungry for them.

Yearning to Break Free: Ohio Superintendents Speak Out is the result of a statewide survey of Ohio district superintendents and other education leaders on the most critical issues facing K-12 education in the Buckeye State in 2011, including budgets, school effectiveness, and laws that make schools harder to manage.  The survey was conducted by the respected, nonpartisan public opinion research firm, FDR Group, and commissioned and underwritten by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The findings come as policy makers struggle to solve the state’s massive budget deficit while ramping up pupil achievement.

Liam Julian

Three cheers for Sean Cavanagh, who pointed out in a recent, long Education Week article that ?A set of stock phrases, sound bites, and buzzwords has come to dominate the public discourse on education, summoned reflexively, it often seems, by elected officials and advocates who speak a shared, accepted language.? Laudably, Cavanagh doesn't spare his own clan, journalists, from censure, noting that ?the pervasiveness of today's education language, often echoed uncritically in the media, is striking.? But public figures receive, and deserve, the most blame: e.g., the president, his education secretary, New Jersey's Governor Christie, and Michelle Rhee, among others. This sort of coverage of the ed-policy-world lexicon is belated and necessary, because a significant percentage of the words spoken and written in this realm are wholly empty. In my own scribbling, I often place quotation marks around ?reform? and ?reformers,? precisely because those words have been drained of meaning and now exist as shibboleths and emotional signifiers. And it's not just the ?reformers? who engage in this semantic subterfuge. Listen to Randi Weingarten talk for two minutes and then ask yourself if anything she has just said is logical, precise, or testable, or if her emanations aren't just one vague utterance attached to another. Weingarten does not use words to clarify but to befuddle. When we unthinkingly, uncritically accept the impoverished language bandied about the ed-policy world we allow ourselves to be taken by Weingarten and her word-warping ilk. Not good.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy...

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