Governance

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...

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....

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...

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...

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

Don't miss this morning's front-page New York Times story on public unions. ?Writer Charles Duhigg offers a comprehensive report on the mess we've gotten ourselves into by giving away public money, we now don't have, to public unions, which want more.? Duhigg understands the fundamental, and anti-democratic,? paradox in public unions' DNA:

[P]ublic workers have a unique relationship with elected officials, because government employees are effectively negotiating with bosses whom they can campaign to vote out of office if they don't get what they want. Private unions, in contrast, don't usually have the power to fire their members' employers.

Therein lies a problem.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

2011 may already be a banner year for education reform (in part thanks to the foundation laid in 2010). Policymakers and education activists in many states (and in D.C.) have just cause to smile?and to soak in the victories that have been won. But don't assume that these victories will be long-held?or that they will spell great change for our hobbling education system?without targeted and sweeping changes to the nation's education governance structure. We can no longer ignore our antiquated governance arrangement?no matter if the subject bores us or we view attempts to change it as politically futile.

So says Checker Finn in the journal Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution Journal, released today.

He goes on to explain whence our current one-size-fits-all model of schooling originated?and why it's such a lemon now. Yet, despite all this, Finn notes that ?structural change in education is not totally impossible.? It'll be a hard squeeze?and will require not just the creation of lemonade but the planting of a whole new orchard of different fruits.

Finn further outlines what a new governance arrangement might look like, at least in part:

With the governor squarely in charge of education, states would

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