Governance

StudentsFirst has made a thoughtful contribution to the burgeoning literature on school governance with its new policy brief Change the Leadership, Change the Rules: Improving Schools and Districts through Mayoral and State Governance. In it, the group argues that school boards have been largely ineffective in urban areas and examines two main alternatives: mayoral control and state control—the latter preferably via the “recovery district” model. It’s a short and snappy synopsis.

The Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project has produced another worthy read: Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education is organized around three theses: inequality is on the rise against a backdrop of low social mobility; the U.S. is experiencing a growing divide in educational investments and outcomes based on family income; and education and smart interventions can help—such as those outlined in Caroline Hoxby’s Expanding College Opportunities project and Ben Castleman’s Summer Melt study. While the facts themselves are not new, the report offers an accessible and logical assemblage. Dig in!

On Monday, Michigan governor Rick Snyder chose finance expert Jack Martin to succeed Roy Roberts as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Martin enters the ring with four decades of private- and public-sector experience under his belt, including stints as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education and emergency manager of Highland Park Schools (another troubled school district in the Detroit metro area). What’s more, he is himself a DPS graduate. Martin is surely well credentialed and...

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My friend Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s longtime education reporter and columnist, has a spectacular history of identifying and profiling great teachers, including but not limited to Jaime Escalante, David Levin, Mike Feinberg, and Rafe Esquith. He is right to find and laud them. His latest tribute to Esquith and Esquith’s newest book, however, turns into another Common Core slam—and another example of idiotic professional development (inflicted, apparently, by some “presenter” on teachers during a “training” at Esquith’s school in Los Angeles). Ugh. Yuck. Sorry about that.

Praise the exception, but remember the rule
Without good policy, we end up with a series of workarounds intended to make a sluggish horse run faster.
Photo by Eduardo Amorim

But there’s an enormous underlying problem that Mathews understands full well, though he doesn’t mention it in this particular column: If American K–12 education contained three million Esquiths and Escalantes, we wouldn’t need Common Core or NCLB or KIPP or choice or value-added teacher evaluations or anything else. But it doesn’t. And it isn’t going to anytime soon. (For starters, as the NCTQ recently documented, even those with promise have miserable preparation programs inflicted upon them.) So we end up with a series of workarounds, must-dos, and compensatory arrangements intended to...

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A first look at the most important education news from this weekend and today:

Fordham's latest

"Be all you can be and become a board member," by Miles Caunin, J.D., Ohio Gadfly Daily

The latest issue of the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics’s annual report on the well-being of America’s children is out, with mostly positive findings. (Inside School Research)

Today, Jack Martin—a finance expert—will replace Roy Roberts as emergency manager of the troubled Detroit Public Schools. (Detroit News)

The Boston School Department refused to release teacher-evaluation ratings to the Boston Globe.

Officials in South Carolina plan to expand the online course offerings of the state’s virtual school. (Digital Education)

In an editorial, the New York Times argues that testing has become overemphasized and that we ought to pay more attention to teacher preparation and implementing the Common Core; the piece also contends that Congress ought to retool school evaluations by adding some weight to indicators other than test scores....

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The charter school movement has inspired a lot of enthusiasm for multi-school networks and their ability to expand, but now it’s time to talk more about how these networks are governed.

Ben Gamla Charter School Clearwater
Why is the successful Ben Gamla Charter closing its doors after one year?
Photo from the Jewish Press of Pinella County

To be sure, it’s less exciting to talk about the configuration and operation of governing boards than it is to talk about scaling up successful charter school models. But this much is true: It’s no fun dissecting the breakdown in governance that has led to a charter school’s closure.

That’s the current reality in Clearwater, Florida. There, the Ben Gamla Charter School is closing its doors after one year of operation not because it performed poorly (most of its fifty students scored well on the state assessment) or because of financial problems (it was thousands of dollars in the black) but because it wrested too much control from its parent foundation.

The National Ben Gamla Charter School Foundation said as much. The South Florida–based foundation has opened eight Hebrew-immersion charter schools throughout the Sunshine State in the last six years, and members of its own board often have overseen the operations and spending at these schools. The foundation installed a board...

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A British schoolteacher, Daisy Christodoulou, has just published a short, pungent e-book called Seven Myths about Education. It’s a must-read for anyone in a position to influence our low-performing public school system. The book’s focus is on British education, but it deserves to be nominated as a “best book of 2013″ on American education, because there’s not a farthing’s worth of difference in how the British and American educational systems are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas—brilliantly deconstructed in this book.

Photo by Christos Tsoumplekas
There's not a farthing's worth of difference in how the British and American educational systems are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas. 

Ms. Christodoulou has unusual credentials. She’s an experienced classroom teacher, she currently directs a nonprofit educational foundation in London, and she is a scholar of impressive powers who has mastered the relevant research literature in educational history and cognitive psychology. Her writing is clear and effective. Speaking as a teacher to teachers, she may be able to change their minds. As an expert scholar and writer, she also has a good chance of enlightening administrators, legislators, and concerned citizens.

Ms. Christodoulou believes that such enlightenment is the great practical need these days, because the chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions,...

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GadflyBusted! The Big Apple’s “transfer” high schools—the city’s schools-of-last-resort for struggling teens—saw more students drop out than graduate in 2011–12—seventy-eight more at the forty-four such schools surveyed, to be exact. By contrast, last year at the same forty-four schools, 619 more students graduated than dropped out. The schools’ principals attributed the flop to midyear changes in graduation requirements (tightened to match state requirements), while city officials—claiming that their own policy changes were “minor”—cited increased Regents standards, instead. For our take, see this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

School districts considering arming their teachers and administrators may need to think twice: Insurance carriers have threatened to raise their premiums or revoke their coverage altogether. This is not universal (Texas, for instance, has made it fairly easy for districts to arm employees and insurance providers have hardly batted an eye—now, whether these employees can actually use their weapons is another matter altogether); nevertheless, it is certainly an important development in the guns-in-schools debate.

As contentious as the New York City mayoral race is, the turbulence in K–12 education facing the new leader is more. New York City public schools must deal with implementation of the Common Core standards and the hard-fought (and still-controversial) teacher-evaluation system—and let’s not forget the conundrums of whether or not to continue the Bloomberg-Kline-era reforms, whether to close the city’s failing schools, whether to allow charters and traditional...

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Traditional school districts and public charter schools are often positioned as competitors, rivals, even enemies. But must they? In February 2010, the Gates Foundation established the District-Charter Collaboration Compact initiative to promote peace and join these two forces in the real battle: improving educational outcomes. This interim report—naught more than a status update, but instructional nonetheless—documents these efforts to date. Sixteen cities participated in the first round, sharing things like physical resources, facilities, and instructional best practices and developing a common enrollment system, expedited by $100,000 Gates grants to each community. Progress on Compact commitments (including a special education collaborative in New York and shared professional development in Boston) has been “episodic,” however, rocked by things like leadership transitions (in Chicago, for instance, initial progress made under Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard has slowed since his exit) and local anti-charter sentiment. Still, the update lauds the fact that district leaders in all sixteen cities report improved dialogue. In December 2012, seven of the sixteen communities—Hartford, Denver, New York City, Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch, Texas—were granted additional funds, totaling close to $25 million, to continue the work.

SOURCE: Sarah Yatsko, Elizabeth Cooley Nelson, and Robin Lake, District-Charter Collaboration Compact: Interim Report (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, June 2013).

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Ohio’s State Board of Education made student privacy a priority in yesterday’s education data hearing.

“What data will be collected on my child?” Board President Debe Terhar read from an email she had received from one of a number of parents concerned with their child’s private information being accessed and shared by schools and outside parties. The board expressed parents’ apprehension toward the use of their son or daughter’s education records as it investigated the balance necessary between collecting data for accountability purposes and respecting the privacy of Ohio’s families.

The board invited testimony from experts in the data technologies currently used by Ohio schools as well as education privacy laws. Their aim was to provide the board – and their constituent districts and parents – with the latest information on challenges to effective data collection and threats to privacy.

The board questioned a panel of ODE data experts on the design and uses of the state’s Educational Management Information System (EMIS) and Instructional Improvement System (IIS). EMIS data proves necessary in state and federal funding formulas, performance accountability, and decision tools for policymakers. IIS provides current and secure data to teachers for individual student performance and curriculum alignment with standards.

The panel expressed confidence in the Ohio Revised Code’s data collection regulations, when asked by the board. Further, the panel referred to the systems’ data collection for measuring outcomes from Pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education as the “holy grail of program evaluation.”

Fordham and the board invited Kent Talbert,...

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Last week, I was preparing for an upcoming adventurous Alaskan vacation that included thoughts of my wife and me, peacefully floating by dangerous summer artic icebergs, when those mental images were suddenly dashed as I opened up my local newspaper.  The Cincinnati Enquirer reported dubious spending activities by the superintendent of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy (CCPA) and the contracted treasurer who was approving them. 

Both the school director and the treasurer face twenty six counts of theft in office, unauthorized use of property, tampering with evidence and tampering with records.  The amount in question exceeds $350,000, and focuses on credit card transactions over the course of a few years that covered lavish trips to Europe, Las Vegas, day spas, an Oprah show in Boston, and so on, under the guise of legitimate business expenses.

The Enquirer also made reference to three other charter school treasurers who were found by State Auditor Dave Yost, to be responsible for more than $1 million in questionable, and possibly illegal, spending of public dollars.  All three were involved in the finances of some of Ohio’s most troubled charter schools.  

As Fordham’s charter school finance expert on the ground in Ohio for our authorizing operation, the chilling effect of these activities will be remembered, as the thoughts of “why” and “how” immediately followed.  What should have been in place that, at a minimum, could have averted such avarice from happening?

As with all organizations, including charter schools, the first place to always look...

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Big Ideas Edition

With Mike beaching it in an undisclosed location, Dara and Daniela take on some big topics: If affirmative action were to end, how could colleges maintain diversity? Do teachers need convincing to use technology? All things considered, is college worth it? Amber charts a course to charter quality.

Amber's Research Minute

National Charter School Study 2013,” by Center for Research on Education Outcomes (Stanford, CA: Center for Research on Education Outcomes, June 2013).

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