"This plan is aggressive." Those are the words used by School District of Philadelphia Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon this morning in a press conference announcing a massive reform of K-12 education in the City of Brotherly Love. These changes come not a moment too soon: Philly's schools were facing massive deficits and ranked among the worst of America’s large urban school districts.

The SRC deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future.

The School Recovery Committee deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future. Aggressive plans often entail mindless slashing of schools and headcount so that "business as usual" can continue elsewhere. The SRC instead plans to bolster parental choice, prizing the development of "high-performing seats" wherever they can be found over protecting the legacy school district at all costs. According to the Inquirer's Kristen Graham, the district also plans to restructure employee benefits, saving $156 million of the projected $218 million deficit for next fiscal year. A 7 percent reduction in per-pupil payments to charters is counterproductive, however: If the SRC really want high quality seats, it shouldn't cut charter funding....

Education Reform for the Digital Era

Education Reform for the Digital Era

Is digital learning education's latest fad or its future? What fundamental changes to the ways we fund, staff, and govern American schools are necessary to fulfill the technology's potential? Will policy tweaks suffice or do we need a total system overhaul—and a big change in the reform priorities that can bring this about? Who will resist—and do their objections have merit? Fordham is bringing together experts on all aspects of education policy—from governance to finance to human capital—to examine how policymakers can make digital learning a transformative tool to improve American education...and weigh the dangers that lie ahead.

The panel featured the governance expertise of the Hoover Institution's John Chubb, insights into teaching's future from Bryan Hassel of Public Impact, analysis of the costs of online learning from the Parthenon Group's Eleanor Laurans, and the cautionary perspective of Emory University's Mark Bauerlein.

Streeeeetching the school dollar

Mike and Adam talk space shuttles, vouchers, and how districts can make the most of tight budgets on this week’s podcast, while Amber explains what special ed looks like in the Bay State.

Amber's Research Minute

Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Download the PDF

A venerable maxim of successful organizational management declares that an executive's authority should be commensurate with his or her responsibility. In plain English, if you are held to account for producing certain results, you need to be in charge of the essential means of production.

watch out for children on see-saws
There's a serious imbalance between a principal's accountability and authority.
 Photo by Kat.

In American public education today, however, that equation is sorely unbalanced. A school principal in 2012 is accountable for student achievement, for discipline, for curriculum and instruction, and for leading (and supervising) the staff team, not to mention attracting students, satisfying parents, and collaborating with innumerable other agencies and organizations.

Yet that same principal controls only a tiny part of his school's budget, has scant say over who teaches there, practically no authority when it comes to calendar or schedule, and minimal leverage over the curriculum itself. Instead of deploying all available school assets in ways that would do the most good for the most kids, the principal...

Guest blogger David Harris is the founder and chief executive officer of The Mind Trust, a nonprofit that is driving innovative K-12 education reform in Indianapolis. Under his leadership, The Mind Trust recruits proven programs to Indianapolis, incubates life-changing schools and initiatives, and develops bold plans for systemic change. Since its launch in 2006, The Mind Trust has impacted 37,500 students through its work and raised twenty-seven million dollars.

The Mind Trust's goal is to ensure every child in Indianapolis has the opportunity to receive an excellent education. We believe that dramatically increasing the number of high-quality schools in our city is critical to this mission.

The need for more high-quality public schools in Indianapolis is sizable. Less than half of students in the city’s largest district, Indianapolis Public Schools, meet basic state standards on both math and English portions of Indiana’s standardized test. Less than two-thirds graduate on time.

The need for more high-quality public schools in Indianapolis is sizable.

The charter schools authorized by the Indianapolis mayor’s office have made significant strides at boosting student outcomes. On average last year, those charter schools exceeded the...

How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar

How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar

READ "How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar"

Despite some signs of economic recovery, school districts nationwide continue to struggle mightily. Nobody expects economic growth—or education spending—to rebound to 2008 levels over the next five years, and the long-term outlook isn't much brighter.

In short, the "new normal" of tougher budget times is here to stay for American K-12 education. So how can local officials cope?

In my new policy brief, I argue that the current crunch may actually present an opportunity to increase the efficiency and productivity of our education system if decision makers keep a few things in mind:

First and foremost, solving our budget crisis shouldn't come at the expense of children. Nor can if come from teachers' sacrifice alone. Depressing teachers' salaries forever isn't a recipe for recruiting bright young people into education—or retaining the excellent teachers we have. Finally, quick fixes aren't a good answer; we need fundamental changes that enhance productivity.

So how can school districts dramatically increase productivity and stretch the school dollar?

One, we should aim for a leaner, more productive, better paid workforce. Let's ask classroom teachers to take on additional responsibility in return for greater pay, eliminate some ancillary positions, and redesign our approach to special education.

Two, we should pay for productivity. A redesigned compensation system would include a more aggressive salary schedule, more pay for more work and better results, and prioritization of salaries over benefits.

Three, we must integrate technology thoughtfully. Online and "blended" school models are coming to K-12 education. They can be catalysts for greater pupil engagement, individualization, and achievement and, if organized right, they can also be opportunities for cost-cutting.

Many districts continue to face budget challenges of historic proportions. Rather than slashing budgets in ways that erode schooling, let's rethink who we hire, what they do, how we pay them, and how to incorporate technology—that's where the big payoff is.

The Education Gadfly Podstagram

Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.

Amber's Research Minute

Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit

The Tartans: The Story of the Sciotoville Community Schools

The Tartans: The Story of the Sciotoville Community Schools





Most charter schools nationwide serve urban communities, this documentary provides a look at the challenges and successes of a rural Appalachian charter school.

The Tartans is the unique story of Portsmouth East High School in South Eastern Ohio. Portsmouth City school district was going to close the facility in 2000 until the community rallied to form a charter school and keep the school from shutting its doors.

The Fordham Foundation has sponsored Sciotoville Community School and Sciotoville Elementary Academy's since July 2011.

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

Mark Anderson is a special education teacher in the Bronx. He is originally from California and still trying to convince himself that skyscrapers are equivalent to mountains. Follow Mark on Twitter @mandercorn or on his blog Schools as Ecosystems.

From where I sit—as a special education teacher in East Tremont in the Bronx—it looks to me like the same issues that plague my public school and district plague the school system at large.

It's rare that content knowledge, pedagogical wisdom, or other experiential knowledge is transferred between classrooms, let alone between schools or between districts. It does happen, when those few teachers that establish meaningful relationships with one another talk about a lesson, or ask to borrow something, or ask for help when they are struggling with a concept. But it doesn’t happen often enough.

One would think that this sort of meaningful transfer of information would occur as a result of professional development or prep period time, but professional development largely seems to stand for "paying some institution lots of money so it can come and tell us how to teach." It's rare that anything that is...