Governance

This collection of case studies from the Center for Reform of School Systems’s Donald McAdams and the Broad Foundation’s Dan Katzir, intended for use in school-board-training institutes, explores the strategies used by twelve governance teams to implement major, district-wide reforms in nine of the nation’s largest school districts (four of which won the Broad Prize for Urban Education), during the 1990s and early 2000s. After one chapter on each of the teams, the authors dive into an analysis of which strategies worked best and why. In Houston, for example, the school board’s shared vision of a decentralized system helped empower schools to work together with community and business leaders in their areas. However, in Aldine, just a few miles north of Houston, board members centralized most of the decision-making. McAdams and Katzir note that, while some management styles worked well for some school boards, no single method was best for all of them. But through the case studies, one can discern four main characteristics of success that other reform-minded school boards might usefully consider emulating: Boards should pick a superintendent whose reform agenda aligns with theirs, strive for cohesion at all times, and—importantly—pay attention to the political environment of the district and community. While these may not be ground-shaking conclusions, they are presented clearly and thoughtfully. The cases are fast-paced and comprehensive in their retelling, and the book is replete with insightful observations worthy of reflection in districts looking to start their own reforms....

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Education Next

It’s not exactly news that America’s education system is mediocre and expensive in international comparison. What’s less well known is that our schools’ ineffectiveness and inefficiency could have big implications for the country’s economic growth in decades to come. In a new book from the Brookings Institution Press, three of the world’s leading education scholars explain that nothing short of America’s prosperity is at risk due to our educational underperformance.

In today’s Education Next book club, Mike Petrilli speaks with all three authors—Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann—about the evidence they bring to bear in Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School.

Additional installments of the Ed Next Book Club podcast can be heard here.

This post originally appeared on the Education Next blog. Check out the Education Gadfly Weekly for a short review of the book.

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Why is the U.S. getting its butt kicked by other countries’ education systems? Amanda Ripley’s fine new book ultimately attributes most of the difference to culture, values, and priorities. She says, in effect, that we’ve got “the schools we deserve,” to borrow the title of a fine old book written by Diane Ravitch (back in the day!). True enough. But tucked away in Ripley’s pages are also a number of examples of how those other lands—her examples are Finland, South Korea and Poland—organize and govern their education systems, and these are illuminating, too, as well as being more actionable in the policy realm.  

Governance matters

Poland, for example, a country understandably allergic to strong central governments, reformed its education system after 1997 in part by empowering school principals to make teacher-hiring decisions. And Finland shut down its inferior ed schools! In Ripley’s words,

Finland’s landscape used to be littered with small teaching colleges of varying quality, just like in the United States….[Then] the Finnish government did something…that has never happened in the United States or most other countries. The Finns rebooted their teacher training colleges, forcing them to become much more selective and rigorous. As part of a broader reform of higher education, the government shuttered the smaller schools and moved teacher preparation into the more respected universities. It was a bold reform, and not without controversy.

Our states could do that, too....

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Driving Quality: Can charter incubators solve the problem of too many mediocre charter schools?

Driving Quality: Can charter incubators solve the problem of too many mediocre charter schools?

Recorded December 7, 2011

Communities across the country are struggling to meet parental demand for high quality school options, including high-performing charter schools. Yet, with hundreds of new charter schools opening every year, not nearly enough of them offer the quality education that parents crave and kids deserve. Indeed, far too many fail to deliver education any better than the troubled neighborhood schools that they are meant as alternatives to.

But a new model for charter school growth has taken root in several cities and it appears to be boosting quality as well as quantity. Charter "incubators" are accelerating the launch and development of top-flight charter schools in communities that need them most. Incubators offer the promise of not only more school choice but schools that reliably deliver academic results.

Join us at the Fordham Institute to hear from leaders that are running some of the best of these new organizations. Co-sponsored by the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust), this discussion will analyze the key findings from a new policy brief by Public Impact, and provide lessons on how federal, state and local policymakers can help launch new quality charter schools while encouraging the culling of weak ones.

Back in June, we at Fordham released a critical review of the final Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As we explained at the time,

…using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—our considered judgment is that NGSS deserves a C.

Our review team felt that these new standards fell short in a number of critical areas. Far too much essential science content was either missing entirely or merely implied. Science practices, while essential to K-12 science learning, were given...

Back-to-school season is officially upon us and for many families that means new school supplies and backpacks and recalling where they stashed the warmer clothes. But if you're a public opinion pollster, back-to-school means it's time to dust off your old education surveys and see if anything’s changed from last year.

With three polls released this week (AP-NORC, PDK/Gallup, and Education Next),  trying to draw broad conclusions can be tricky given what, at times, seem to be fairly contradictory answers from the public. Some commentators have focused on what the data seem to show regarding hot-button policy...

“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.” This is carved into a massive stone wall on the FDR memorial in Washington, but it could have been the preface to this slender, timely, punchy book by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann. These authors make a persuasive case for improving the academic achievement of U.S. students—and thus America’s human resources—so that the nation thrives well into the future. Schools are where human capital gets built, they argue, and the acquisition of essential skills is better measured by standardized tests than by years spent in class....

British author and director of research at the Centre for Market Reform of Education, Gabriel Sahlgren brings us back to Economics 101 with the contention that there is one root cause of all problems afflicting education today: a lack of proper incentives for quality. He argues that the strongest system would be built on a functioning, choice-heavy education market. From there, his argument proceeds rationally: Readers are treated to a thorough explanation underpinning school choice as it relates to competition and quality. Sahlgren evaluates an impressive body of research, covering studies that are cross national (such as Hensvik’s 2012 finding...

Is it all just politics in the Badger State? Have you ever heard of the Common Core? Mike and Brickman talk dairy, while Amber hashes out the latest Education Next survey results.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2013 Education Next Survey by Michael Henderson and Paul E. Peterson, (Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG))

Chester E. Finn, Jr. breaks down why Fordham does not support implementation of the NGSS.

Many states have found a solution for how to better serve their inner-city students through portfolio districts, urban districts that prescribe to a continuous improvement model based on seven key components. Ohio is no exception to that as Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus all participate in the portfolio district network. In order to become a portfolio district, central offices must learn to give the decision making authority to school leaders.  In transitioning, however, district officials are left wondering how much power to give and who to give it to. Simply giving all schools full autonomy is a bad idea. In a short piece by Paul Hill, creator of the portfolio school district, management strategy provides advice to central offices by determining what authority schools should receive and which ones should be chosen.  Hill delineates between two types of autonomy—basic and advanced. If a school is selected to be autonomous, basic autonomies are those that are “non-negotiables.” The list of basic autonomies include control of spending, control of hiring, control of student grouping, and control of funds for professional development. Advanced autonomies are those that, according to Hill, “ensure that the school is fully in charge of itself and can be held accountable for student learning.” Among the advanced autonomies are the control of teacher pay, control of firing, and freedom to make purchases for academic support services. In developing the first pilot group for school autonomy, Hill recommends that central office staff consider schools that, more than anything, are...

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Following the Tony Bennett flap, the A-to-F school-grading systems that Bennett championed are themselves under the gun. Some have argued in favor of increasing the number of measures upon which schools are graded, reflecting the variety of grades that parents see their children bring home from school every year. But at what point will more information become too much information? For a great discussion, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

After announcing its plans to withdraw from both Common Core–assessment consortia, Pennsylvania has clarified that it will in fact remain a member of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced—it just won’t be using either test. “Huh,” you say? The nominal difference means that the Keystone State will retain the right to “participate” in each group’s discussions.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Robert Samuelson argued that the fiscal crisis facing state and local governments can be boiled down to the clash of two interests: schools versus nursing homes. Samuelson characterized the impending pension crisis as a “prolonged squeeze” from retirement commitments to public employees, while we call it the “big squeeze” in our series of reports on retirement costs of teachers....

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Opt-Out or Cop-Out? A Debate on 'New' Accountability Systems

Opt-Out or Cop-Out? A Debate on 'New' Accountability Systems

Growing numbers of parents, educators, and school administrators are calling for a local "opt-out" from state tests and accountability systems.

Is this opt-out a cop-out? Or would students benefit from a system that their own teachers and principals devised? Should all schools be offered an opt-out alternative, one in which they propose to be held accountable to a different set of measures? What about opt-outs for high-achieving schools or schools with good reason to be different? Would such a system move us toward or away from the goals of the Common Core? As for charter schools, must they continue to be tethered to uniform statewide accountability systems? Or should we rekindle the concept of customizing each school's charter and performance expectations?

The Washington Post profiled Josh Powell, a homeschooled young man, who—having never written an essay or learned that South Africa was a country—had to take several years of remedial classes at a community college to get back on track with his peers. Citing worry for his eleven younger siblings, all still being homeschooled by their parents, young Mr. Powell (now a Georgetown undergrad) urges that homeschooling to be subject to accountability. But just what kind of accountability? That’s a tricky question. This is a fascinating case—and a very touchy subject.

There’s a waiting list of about 1,000 students who want to take part in Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which currently allows 2,000 youngsters to shop around for courses, virtual and otherwise, that are not offered in their home school. State Superintendent John White says that 100 applications pile in every day and that, to accommodate everybody, he’ll have to scrounge for money. The state Supreme Court has already ruled that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits. White estimates that he’ll need another $1.5 million just to meet the current demand.

After reaching a long-awaited teachers’ contract in April, Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top grant, awarded in 2010, has finally been cleared of its “high-risk” label. Essentially, this means that the state will no longer have to endure stricter reporting requirements—and, as noted by Education Week, it is a big confidence boost as the...

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Chuck Edwards

With the passage of the House GOP’s version of the ESEA reauthorization, we have begun to see more public protest against one its key provisions: repeal of Title I’s longstanding maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement, which—in its current form—mandates that school districts each year spend state and local resources equivalent to 90 percent of the previous year’s level or suffer a proportionate cut in their ESEA grants.

Despite House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline’s (R-Minnesota) years-long campaign against MOE, I so far have seen only tepid opposition from the left. (The Center for American Progress has been on the issue for a while.) But MOE featured prominently in the Obama administration’s recent veto threat, which warned that elimination of MOE “could reduce overall investment in public education.” Perhaps this will spark more attention—but the game is not worth the candle. MOE’s teeth were pulled in 1981 by Ronald Reagan. In its modern form, MOE simply can’t do what its advocates say it will do—i.e., maintain a consistent level of state and local investment in education. And, at least in the current political climate, there is no real chance of restoring its bite.

The history

Enacted as part of the original ESEA back in 1965, MOE was one of the original Title I provisions designed to ensure equitable funding for poor kids. To see what MOE was actually intended to achieve, it is helpful to step back in time and review the poisonous...

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