Governance

There is a wonderful moment in Jonathan Mahler's arresting New York Times Magazine story this morning about an inner city public school, when its entrepreneurial principal wanted to start the school day ten minutes earlier than the union contract called for.? Instead of yet another account of union intransigence,?Mahler quotes principal Ramon Gonzalez:

The research says it's better to start your school day later?? But those researchers don't live in my neighborhood.

As Mahler writes, Gonzalez's neighborhood is in the poorest Congressional district in the nation and most of his students live in one of five sprawling nearby housing projects.? Violence is a big part of his students' lives and the reason for starting school earlier is a nod to the realities of the street: he wanted to create more time for tutoring after school so he could get the kids home before dark.?

The?story is deftly reported and admirably written, and the Times should be applauded for allowing Mahler the space to show the nuances of the small victories and major challenges that illustrate some of the?secrets of ?Gonzalez's success; there is no secret sauce,?it seems, other than that of grinding dedication, intense focus on details,?and hard work.? The title of the story is apt: The Fragile Success of School Reform in the Bronx. After seven years under Gonzalez, who opened M.S. 223 in 2003, as?one of Joel Klein's first new schools, ?student proficiency levels in math have jumped 360 percent and in English by 200...

?David Steiner got none of the negative press that Cathleen Black received when he was appointed Commissioner of New York State's Education Department in October of 2009. ?But it seems that the boot that Black got this morning may also have hit Steiner, whose resignation (now set for the end of the year) was announced?this afternoon. ?

In fact, the two education leaders couldn't have been more different. Black was a non-educator; Steiner was the real deal and his appointment?was hailed by educators as a major step forward for New York.? In a few short months, he turned New York State from an also-ran?in the Race to the Top competition to a winner.? As I write in a forthcoming story for Education Next about Steiner, ?Perhaps not since William T. Harris, the 19th century's last U.S. commissioner of education and founder of the first philosophical periodical in America, have we had such a deep and agile mind in such a key position of public school responsibility.? ?

What happened???While the Black exit was predictable ? and predicted, by Mike Petrilli ? Steiner's departure came as a shock to many when New York State Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch announced it today.? The press release reads:

We recruited David because he is one of America's leading education reform visionaries, and as Commissioner he has delivered - leading New York's successful Race to the Top application and guiding this department through an amazing array of reforms.? As he approaches the

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[caption id="attachment_16080" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Photos by GothamSchools and Louise Docker"][/caption]

Mike's on the road today, but he wanted to make sure Flypaper readers saw: Cathie Black is stepping down as chancellor of New York City schools, to be replaced by Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott.

For those who don't remember, Mike predicted a pre-Easter Black departure in his 7 for '11 predictions back in December 2010:

1.????? Cathie Black will be gone by Easter. A betting man might say that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will stubbornly hold fast to his choice, but I foresee a breaking point a few months hence. It'll go down like this: Her gaffes continue, she loses support even among middle-class Gotham parents, she botches the release of teacher effectiveness data, and she stumbles with the politics of budget-cutting. Worried about a mass exodus of the Department of Education's senior staff, and sensing vulnerability on a marquee issue in his presidential run, Bloomberg finds an excuse to show her the door.

Black's gaffs might not have been as egregious as Mike originally anticipated, but her loss of support, even among middle-class Gotham parents is sure. A poll given earlier this week tallied her approval rate at a scant 17 percent.

So, go ahead and gloat a bit Mike?and be sure to buy a lottery ticket today. (If you win, I expect lunch for the office.)

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It was standing room only yet again at Monday night's meeting of the board of education, of which I am a member, in our 2000-student upstate New York school district; nearly 200 people were jammed into the high school cafeteria when I arrived.? This was not good. As a member of the board, you always survey the crowd (which is normally a group of 15 to 20 die-hards and union reps, maybe a reporter or two, and a couple people with ?issues?) and, depending on who is there ? and how many -- you can usually tell how the meeting will go. A big crowd is usually a harbinger of some drama.? Monday night did not disappoint.??

There were several dozen teachers (wearing their black union t-shirts), several dozen students, several dozen parents, and assorted knots of district employees and ordinary citizens. Our security guard, who does not normally come to meetings, smiled at me from the back of the room.? I knew just about everyone and I knew they were not there for the Board of Cooperative Education Services report or for the Walking School Bus program PowerPoint.

In fact, because it's a small town, I knew that most of the people were there for an item that was not even on the Agenda: ?the board's decision the previous week not to allow the varsity baseball team to play its home games at a nifty new stadium, owned by the town, just down the road. ?For some...

As I was writing up the account of my recent board meeting, I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. ?And just at that moment, it seemed, there came a flurry of emails from a listserve I am a member of --? to remind me that I am not alone in my experience of the world of local school governance.

The Irvington Parents Forum, which was started in 2006 by Catherine Johnson, co-author, with Temple Grandin, of Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior,?for parents in this upscale Westchester town who wanted to discuss?issues in their schools.? Irvington?is about the same size as my district, but with a considerably different demographic.

It is refreshing to know that the professional class is as ornery as the working class; that a district that has lots of local money (i.e.?Irvington gets little state aid) has governance challenges similar to our district, which?has very little local money. This doesn't mean there aren't major differences in educational outcomes -- and?folks in Irvington are surely more comfortable at the keyboard than in my district (where I have an education listserve that is almost inactive): the Irvington forum now has 312 members and they've generated an impressive 5,691 (as of this writing) messages over the last five-and-a-half years. The writing is?often witty and wise, sometimes angry, and relatively uncensored (though anonymous posts are frowned on and Johnson is a dedicated moderator).? She is...

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

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

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...

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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