Governance

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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The Education Gadfly

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="190" caption="Photo by Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times"][/caption]

This past weekend, the education-reform world lost a long-time champion with the passing of David T. Kearns, former deputy secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush. Here are some thoughts from those with whom he served.

Leslye A. Arsht

Former Counselor to the Secretary of Education, When David Kearns was Deputy Secretary

It was impossible, when I heard that David Kearns had passed, not to have a sad, then bittersweet moment.

David, who might have coined the ?believe in better? attitude, defied death for a very long time?and he lived his life?post-cancer diagnosis?with the grace, dignity, energy, and enthusiasm that he modeled before it.

I believe everyone who worked with David, as I did for only a brief time, while he was deputy secretary, was energized and empowered by him in ways that may not have been apparent, until we'd left his daily presence.

He taught us to be undeterred by big obstacles, and to meet those barriers with big solutions; to use the tools/ ideas/strategies available, regardless of their genesis; while at it, be open to a better approach; be relentless and unwavering in the demand for forward movement; know it will be messy but bring people along; be as kind and as cheerful as your nature will allow.

Never STOP trying.

I'll never forget him. His memory

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For those of you following the public union fights in the Midwest, I recommend Steven Greenhouse's story in today's New York Times.? According to Governor Mitch Daniels and other Hoosier state government managers Greenhouse spoke to, Daniels' 2005 executive order eliminating collective bargaining by state employees has saved millions of dollars while streamlining services.? Not everyone is happy, of course, but when you hear that because of union rules in Wisconsin a county executive can't close a juvenile detention center that houses just one child, the logic of public sector collective bargaining seems hard to support.? And it is a logical impasse that has so many teacher union representatives tongue-tied.? Here's Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which represents 98,000 public school employees in the Badger state, worrying to Greenhouse about the abolition of collective bargaining:? ?Layoffs may not be based on merit or effectiveness, but on anything management wants it to be.??

Uh?? This would seem to presume that the union is for merit and effectiveness layoffs.? I guess she has forgotten?about?the Last In First Out union rule.

?--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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In an essay about the fracas in Wisconsin Jonah Goldberg argues in the L.A. Times that ?Public unions have been a 50-year mistake?.

A crucial distinction has been lost in the debate over [Gov. Scott] Walker's proposals: Government unions are not the same thing as private sector unions.

It is a point well-worth making.? While private sector unions came from the ?bloody adversarial relationship? between management and labor, says Goldberg, public unions are ?rankly political? animals. They deliver money to legislators who, not surprisingly, vote them nice salaries and benefits. Public sector unions are simply ?the party of government.?? It's like bargaining with yourself.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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Liam Julian

Richard Kahlenberg takes on Michelle Rhee, whose ?dramatic, often authoritarian, style is ill-suited for education.? He also takes on the ?elite press,? which has been far too uncritical of the former schools chancellor because she is ?a hard-working Ivy League graduate? who reporters simply ?respect?. . .?as one of their own.? (Kahlenberg graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, which doesn't at all invalidate his point but does make his phrasing sort of weird.) And Kahlenberg also takes on Richard Whitmire's new book about Rhee, The Bee Eater, which he calls too flattering of its subject and too uninformed about the topics it covers.?Per the latter plaint, Whitmire writes in The Bee Eater that Rhee's tenure-reform proposals ?represented an existential challenge? to the AFT: ?If the union couldn't protect their members' jobs,? Whitmire wonders, ?what was the point of having a union?? Kahlenberg responds: ?In fact, teachers' unions were created to do lots of things: lobby for more funding for public education, increase teacher salaries, reduce class size, improve the ability of teachers to discipline students, and fight private-school-voucher initiatives.? In other words, Kahlenberg contends that teachers' unions don't exist only to protect their members' jobs but also to raise their members' salaries; improve their members' working conditions; oppose vouchers so students will remain in public schools and out of private ones; and lobby for smaller class sizes (which mean more teachers, more members, more money, more power). I doubt Whitmire (or Rhee) would disagree with any of...

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In fact, as the cover story in New York magazine begins, ?Cathie Black is lost in Queens?. Usually when Black goes east, she's headed to her $4 million house in Southampton,? not the Coney Island elementary school where the new Gotham schools chief was supposed to be going.????

It goes without saying that the chancellorship of New York City schools is -- sui generis. ?Nothin' quite like it. ?Over a million kids. Eighty thousand teachers.? Hundreds of buildings.? A budget of over $20 billion a year.? Staggering numbers.? You might as well be running a small country ? for small people! Worse, there are four major TV networks, four major newspaper dailies, and dozens of Internet denizens ? all looking over your shoulder, tracking every cough or sneeze, trolling for news!? In week three, her comment to a group of parents worried about school crowding ? ?Could we just have some birth control for a while?? ? earned headlines. ?The Times already has a page devoted to Black stories and profiles.

Running New York City's schools is not so much a job as a penance. ?(I didn't see Governor Andrew Cuomo (who makes $179,000), while castigating the state's school superintendents for their exorbitant salaries, offer to trade places with Gotham's school's chancellor, even though she makes $250,000. In fact, Black, as the New York story points out, is taking a considerable pay cut from what she was used to in the corporate CEO world.)...

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