Governance

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).

A week catching up on education challenges and reforms in England made clear that the U.S. and its “mother country” continue to track—and copy and study and refine—each other’s programs and policies, much as they have done at least since Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s education teams realized how much they had in common. But the differences remain profound, too.

Similarities and differences between UK and US education reform
The U.S. and the U.K. continue to track, copy, study, and refine each other's programs and policies. But the differences remain profound, too.

Let’s start with nine notable similarities.

1. Both nations are engaged in major pushes to overhaul their standards, assessment, and accountability systems. Mediocre PISA and TIMSS results plus persistent domestic achievement gaps have caught the eyes of policymakers and education leaders on both sides of the pond, as it’s become clear that yesterday’s so-so expectations just aren’t good enough and that today’s testing-and-accountability regimes do not produce nearly enough world-class, college-ready graduates. Nor have they significantly reduced the most troubling performance gaps. Changes are afoot.

2. With standards-raising comes keen anxiety about implementation on the ground (will teachers, for example, be adequately prepared?) and about public outcry when more youngsters (and schools) are found wanting.

3. Whereas yesterday’s...

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The Ohio Senate passed legislation (House Bill 167) last week that enables Columbus’ mayor to authorize charter schools. The reform legislation was introduced in response to a cheating scandal that has brought Columbus City Schools to its knees. When Governor Kasich signs the bill into law—we expect he will—Columbus will be one of two cities in America (Indianapolis being the other) that directly empowers the mayor to authorize charter schools.  

The reform legislation has one other major component, in addition to the mayoral authorization of charters. The Columbus City Schools school board will be required to place a levy on the ballot, which will require that the district share the revenue with partnering charter schools. If passed, this could be a considerable boost for Columbus’ charters, who until now have had no access to local revenue. (Cleveland Metropolitan School District is the only other school district in Ohio that is required by law to share local revenue with charter schools.)

As Columbus’ mayor acquires a portfolio of charter schools to authorize, and as he and the district prepare a levy for the November elections, let us suggest that these leaders be choosy about which charter schools they partner with. For it has become nearly axiomatic that cities around the nation and in Ohio have a fair share of both dreadful and fantastic charter schools.

Columbus is no exception. To show the variation in charter school quality, consider the chart below that shows the academic performance of Columbus’...

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GadflyNew York City’s graduation rate dipped very slightly in 2012—information that was hailed as a win by Mayor Bloomberg, given that the class of 2012 was the first cohort not given the option to graduate with an easier-to-obtain “local diploma.”

The United Federation of Teachers has announced its support for former city comptroller Bill Thompson’s bid for mayor of New York City—the union’s first endorsement in a mayoral election in more than a decade. But have no fear, ye other candidates—Mayor Bloomberg has derisively dubbed the union endorsement a “kiss of death” (to which the union responded by likening Bloomberg’s approval as “worse than a zombie attack”). And Gotham politics continue.

Earlier this week, New Hampshire Superior Court judge John Lewis bucked U.S. Supreme Court precedent and ruled that the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program directed public money to religious schools, in violation of the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment—a provision banning government aid to “sectarian” schools that has its roots in the anti-Catholic bigotry pervasive in the late 1800s. (Blaine Amendments still exist in thirty-six other states.) Judge Lewis’s ruling marks the first time a tax-credit-scholarship program has been struck down on these grounds. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had determined that tax-credit-scholarship money never reaches the state treasury and thus cannot be considered public. An appeal in the...

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By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

For this week’s BTCIK, I wanted to celebrate the close of another school year by shining light on a true school leader—someone who’s taught, supported teachers, supported schools, and run schools.

Kaya Henderson District of Columbia Public Schools

So we’re lucky enough to have as a guest Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Like so many involved in this work, she is a passionate advocate for the interests of kids in need. But she’s been able to turn that commitment into a number of groundbreaking accomplishments—growing TFA, launching TNTP, crafting and implementing IMPACT, and more.

There’s no doubt that were she to decide to hang up her ed-reform cleats now and apply her talents elsewhere—God forbid!—she’d be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But there are quite a few of those in our business. What sets Kaya apart, at least in my book, are rare personal qualities that remain unseen unless you have the chance to spend some time in her company.

She’s a sophisticated thinker; you don’t achieve the professional successes she has through gumption alone. She’s courageous; though everyone knows her for her approachable style, warm disposition, and infectious smile, Kaya’s accomplishments are partly attributable to her titanium backbone.

Most importantly, though—and I wish I had a better...

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A report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) sheds light on the poor quality of school governance in the United States. The author, Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education, argues that governance establishes two things: one, who is in charge of education policy (who makes and implements it), and two, how policy decisions are made (through a deliberative body or through a single executive). Ultimately, successful governance systems are able to determine what government agencies and what level of government has the ability to administer and implement education policy, as well as who is accountable for the quality of education. Tucker explains that the American system is hindered by having the local, state, and federal levels of government pushing forward policy independent of each other. This creates an incoherent governance system and diffuses accountability. So what is the Tucker’s suggestion to improve the current system? Governance, according to Tucker, should be centralized at the state level, limiting the roles that both local and federal agencies have on in creating and implementing education policies. Local governance of schools is resistant to policy reform because there are not many incentives to deviate from the status quo (e.g., the strength of unions at the local level and low voter turnout for school board elections). Meanwhile, central control from the federal government of local schools would not be supported by the public. In strengthening the capacity for states to create education policy and changing the roles at the local and...

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Here’s the second half of my compilation of recent publications you might want to read.

  • If you’re interested in the educator-evaluation debate, you ought to take a look at Democrats for Education Reform’s recent report, Culture of Countenance. A number of groups have begun analyzing the consequences of the nation’s rapid overhaul of laws and regulations related to evaluations. DFER’s contribution is giving attention to the most overlooked aspect—observations. An underreported finding of the MET study is that observations may be the wobbliest leg of the new stool. This report builds on that, echoing one of the most important arguments in The Widget Effect—that the culture surrounding evaluations undermines the entire system, observations in particular.
  • The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released results from its
  • ...
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Ohio’s cities are rife with people pushing forward education reforms. As education leaders look outwards to new ways to improve education they are also beginning to turn inwards to see what components of the “education machine” are failing the system. In the wake of a very public data scandal, Columbus mayor Michael B. Coleman spurred the creation of the Columbus Education Commission to hold discussions on how to improve the governance of Columbus City Schools and increase the supply of high-quality schools. Amid the discussions, the Commission brought in experts to discuss alternative forms of school leadership which would involve the mayor’s office appointing people to the board or having a hybrid elected and appointed board.

While complete mayoral control of the school board is not likely to come to Columbus, the discussion did open an important policy discussion— what are the impediments to the current structure of school boards in Ohio and how can we work to improve them? In a scathing review of local governance structure in the United States, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy Marc Tucker states that “it is our system of local control that, more than any other feature of our education system, stands between us and the prospect of matching the performance of the countries with the most successful education systems.”

School boards are a part of the issue in Ohio and elsewhere in the nation, and it is systemic problems that do not allow them...

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Lyndsey Layton’s wonderful—and wonderfully revealing—front-page Washington Post article is today’s must read (“Duncan’s mission: Sell preschool plan to GOP”). But if you’re like me, it will leave you scratching your head—if not pulling out your hair.

Obama's pre-K plan
This is the Administration's plan to get an enormous new social entitlement through Congress?
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

This is the Administration’s plan to get an enormous new social entitlement through Congress? Stage events with GOP governors and urge them to pressure Congressional Republicans into passing a tobacco tax? They can’t possibly be that naïve, can they?

In classic Team Obama style, Duncan explains resistance to his boss’s plan as Congressional dysfunction. Yet Republican members of Congress are “functioning” just at they’re supposed to. They promised voters that they would rein in spending, limit the size of government, and keep taxes low. Duncan admits that he wants “a massive influx of resources” in order to “dramatically expand access.” I’m sorry, but that’s not what Republicans were elected to support.

What’s needed isn’t a fancy campaign, complete with a “war room” and “outside-in” strategy, but a real negotiation.*  Republicans might support high-quality preschool for poor kids, but not if it means a whopping new tax. What are Democrats willing to give in return?

I see opportunities in Duncan’s admission that...

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