Governance

Reformers understandably fixate on our disputes du jour. They generally have compelling characters and some perceived peril: college kids rattling plastic sabers at TFA, a pair of Pelican State politicians double crossing Common Core, etc.

But of far greater moment is our never-ending uphill struggle against homeostasis, nature’s inclination to slide back to the comfortable equilibrium of the way things have been. Its reverse pull—like gravity, invisible and relentless—is the real danger. Slowly, silently shifting tectonic plates, not fast-moving, thunderous storms, bring down mountains

This is why we should pay close attention to three subtle storylines about to converge.

The first is the exodus of reform-oriented state chiefs. The Race-to-the-Top era made state leaders of prominent reform figures: Deborah Gist in 2009; Chris Cerf, John King, Kevin Huffman, Stefan Pryor, and Hanna Skandera in 2011; John White and Mark Murphy in 2012; Tony Bennett in 2013. They led efforts to create next-generation accountability systems, overhaul tenure and educator evaluation, expand choice, toughen content standards, improve assessments, and more.

But that tide is receding. As Andrew Ujifusa reported, twenty-nine states have changed...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above....

Having worked on educator evaluation reform at a state department of education, I do my best to keep up with developments related to the extremely tough work of state-level implementation. I follow New Jersey’s progress especially closely because I took part in the work there (and I’m certainly biased in its favor).

If you also track such stuff, take a look at the “2013-14 Preliminary Implementation Report on Teacher Evaluation" recently released by the NJDOE

There’s much to like here, including the way the state reports on the history of the program and its focus on district engagement and continuous improvement.

But two things really caught my eye. First, the report has some important data points. For instance:

  • The pilot program included thirty districts and nearly 300 administrators.
  • More than 25,000 educators took part in some kind of state training in 2013–14.
  • The new program may have increased the number of teacher observations around the state by 180,000(!).
  • More than half of districts are using some version of the Danielson observation instrument, and most of the remaining districts are using one of four other tools.

Second, the state is...

I recently wrote about exciting new charter school results in Washington, D.C.. More kids are in high-performing charters, the number of high-performing charters is growing, and the number of struggling charters is shrinking.

But why?

For lots of reasons; D.C. has great school operators that are expanding; the charter law is quite good; the city has valuable support organizations; and public support has helped insulate the sector from unfounded attacks.

But among the most important factors is strong authorizing. That’s why you should read the new case study of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB).

By way of background, PCSB is regarded as one of the nation’s ablest authorizers. It’s a “single-purpose entity,” meaning that it only does charter authorizing, and its schools educate nearly half of D.C.’s public-school students. (And my Bellwether colleague Sara Mead is a member of its board.)

The report provides solid information on PCSB’s history, structure, schools portfolio, activities, processes, budget, staffing, and governance. Charter authorizing across the nation would improve (and charter performance would improve as a result) if PCSB’s lessons were widely adopted.

Even if you’re not as devoted to...

Leadership Evolving: New Models of Preparing School Heads

VIDEO: Leadership Evolving: New Models of Preparing School Heads

What does school leadership development in England look like, how is it changing, and what can other countries learn from the English approach?

Gabriel Sanchez Zinny

Educational systems around the world are in a critical state. Nearly everywhere, they struggle with poor-quality schools, persistent inequality, and local administrations with restricted budgets—which all combine to compromise the educational opportunities of a large portion of the student-age population.

These worrisome trends are reinforced in emerging economies, like those of Latin America. The region has seen over a decade of sustained growth and growing middle classes, and as the burgeoning “knowledge society” is impacting every sector, these expanded middle classes are demanding better education and greater opportunity.

While Latin America trails behind most of the world in its education performance, there are a number of governments taking the initiative in confronting these challenges. Leading this group are Chile, Colombia, and recently Mexico, where President Enrique Pena Nieto has successfully pushed for deep education reforms. While passing legislation cost significant political capital, and on paper the measures—including reforming the teacher tenure system—look very positive, the ultimate impact on the quality of learning will depend greatly on the implementation and follow-through of subsequent governments.

But perhaps the most surprising recent phenomenon in Latin America has been the extent to which the non-government sector, including entrepreneurs, companies, and investors, is...

A firestorm has erupted in Ohio on a proposed state board of education administrative rule. The headline on Diane Ravitch’s blog cries, “Ohio Alert! State Board of Education Will Vote on Whether to Eliminate Arts, P.E., Librarians, Nurses at Elementary Schools.” The headline, though sensational, is flat wrong and misleading.

Let’s set the facts straight. The Ohio state board of education is proposing to eliminate the staffing-ratio mandates for non-classroom-teaching staff. (These include counselors, gym teachers, elementary art and music teachers, etc.) The board, then, is not pronouncing a death-sentence on music or art. Local schools may hire as many non-classroom-teaching personnel as they see fit. Rather the proposal aims to give districts more flexibility over how they staff their schools.

Here is the rule in question, as presently written [OAC 3301-35-05 (A)(4)].

A minimum of five full-time equivalent educational service personnel shall be employed district-wide for each one thousand students in the regular student population as defined in section 3317.023 of the Revised Code. Educational service personnel shall be assigned to at least five of the eight following areas: counselor, library media specialist, school nurse, visiting teacher, social worker and elementary art, music and physical education....

Over the last five years, prodded by the feds, states have adopted teacher evaluation systems. According to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, forty-one states, including Ohio, now require evaluations that include objective measures of student achievement. These aren’t the meat-axe assessments of yesteryear, though. These next-generation teacher evaluations combine classroom observations using new prescriptive protocols with quantitative evidence of learning gains on state tests (or another form of assessment) to determine each teacher’s effectiveness.

The national focus on teacher evaluations raises a couple of questions. First, why have states chosen to focus on teacher evaluations (i.e. what’s the problem that policymakers are trying to solve)? Second, are the new evaluations proving effective in solving the problem?

Let’s start with the why. Recall all the evidence that the single most important in-school factor for student achievement is teacher quality. If we know that good teachers make a difference, it's not surprising that we've focused on evaluating them. Such evaluations hold the potential to identify great teachers whom we can reward, retain, and/or hold up as models, struggling or developing teachers whom we can help to improve, and ineffective teachers who should be removed from...

In January, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education (ED) issued a joint “Dear Colleague” letter to K–12 schools. The letter calls into question whether minority children are punished more harshly than white children for the same infractions. The letter notes that schools could be guilty of discrimination in one of two ways: If a student is treated differently because of his or her race, or if a neutral policy has a “disparate impact.”

While the first method of determining discrimination is clear and fair, the second method is far more open to interpretation.  The letter explains that “examples of policies that can raise disparate impact concerns include policies that impose mandatory suspension, expulsion, or citation upon any student who commits a specified offense.” What the departments are suggesting here is that zero-tolerance policies, which impose a specific penalty for a specific offense, could have a disparate impact on minority students and may be discriminatory.

The disparate impact analysis forces the DOJ and ED into the murky water of differentiating between strict enforcement of zero-tolerance policies that are necessary to meeting educational goals and selective...

All Hallows Edition

The testing pushback, a college boost for poor kids, adolescent readers, and school-supporting nonprofits.

Amber's Research Minute

"The Rise of School-Supporting Nonprofits," by Ashlyn Aiko Nelson and Beth Gazley, Association for Education Finance and Policy (Feburary 2014).

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