Governance

Or is it the shame of New York?? One can never be sure.

According to Barbara Martinez in the Wall Street Journal, Gotham's four-year graduation rates are soaring, to a record 65% -- or so says Mayor Michael Bloomberg.? ?A great day for NYC? Yes and No. As Martinez says,

The enthusiasm was damped somewhat by the [New York] state Department of Education, which pointed out that most of the graduates weren't ready for college. In New York City, only 35% of those who graduated were deemed prepared for college. The state defines college readiness as achieving a score of 80 or better on the state math Regents exam and 75 or better on the English Regents exam.

I like Bloomberg ? and not just because he is rich and shorter than I am.? He is not defensive.? "Is it adequate? No," he said about the new graduation stats, but "getting a high-school diploma is a very big deal."

I happen to believe that Bloomberg (and Joel Klein) transformed ?a rinky-dink candy store,? as he once described the education system he inherited in 2001, into something more like a Target.? It's cool. It's red. Yes, there are still candy-store fans, but, bottom line, education in New York City is better than it has been in decades. And Bloomberg, to his credit, despite a stumble with Cathy Black, has not backed down on his promise to be an education mayor ? to take responsibility for education outcomes....

The Washington Post this weekend lobbed some serious accusations at the Montgomery County Board of Education, calling recently revealed health care savings a "slush fund." This is the latest development in a battle between the school board governing this high-spending, wealthy suburban district and the County Council that exercises putative control over the county's budget.

In this go-round, the council cut $25M from the schools budget, after which the school board suddenly found $21M in health care savings, which it promptly used to reverse an expected increase in the proportion of health care costs paid by teachers. The Post, a vocal parents' group, and others are unhappy the savings weren't used more directly in the classroom.

The whole thing reveals one of the thorniest problems of traditional "marble cake" school governance. Both the council and the school board are agents of the taxpayers of Montgomery County. They are each serving others sets of interests as well, however: students, parents, teachers, public workers other than teachers, business owners, etc. The present system of governance in Montgomery County doesn't seem to be succeeding at working out the conflicts among those groups in an orderly and transparent way.

In a recent post in Time Andy Rotherham asks whether it may be the ?end times for public charter schools? and he cites a number of setbacks in the charter world to whet your doubting appetites. But before draping the coffin, read Daniela's take on Andy's argument about Rhode Island ? ?Rhode Island has been on a whirlwind track toward education reform over the past couple of years? ? and Jamie's putting Ohio's charter picture in perspective -- ??Rotherham grossly oversimplifies the experience in Ohio.?

I would like to add another view from the trenches: and would suggest that Washington policymakers take a deep breath and understand that, in the provinces, most people still don't know what a charter school is.? Sure, as Rotherham suggests, ?the term `charter school' is increasingly meaningless? ? inside the beltway, that is. Outside the beltway, the term ?charter school? has never been meaningful. The powerful teachers unions, in small districts and large, have so demonized charters for so long, have so hamstrung local reporters and their Chamber of Commerce publishers, that most people ? and most education journalists ?? still think of the appearance of charter schools on the scene as the education version of the invasion of the body-snatchers.

For those interested, here's how, thanks to John Merrow, the modern charter school movement was invented (see history of charters).

But I have found that once people understand the reason for charters, and their advantages over their...

The Harmony Charter school opus in today's Times is a great read.? It's very long, over 4,000 words, starting on the front page and covering two full pages on the inside of the paper. But its author, Stephanie Saul, is a crack ?investigative reporter? and a 1995 recipient of a Pulitzer -- not an education writer.? The headline is a grabber: ?Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas,? as is the subhead:? ?Some Founders Belong to Islamic Movement.?? Saul tells the story of the Cosmos Foundation, which runs Harmony and is now the largest charter school operator in the Lone Star State, and focuses much of her attention on a ?close-knit network of businesses and organizations run by Turkish immigrants? that benefit from the $100 million in taxpayer funds Harmony receives to run its 33 Texas schools. ?Throw in a ?charismatic Turkish preacher of a moderate brand of Islam? whose followers have helped start 120 schools in 25 states, lots of male teachers from foreign countries, and you have the makings of an education potboiler.? ?The growth of these `Turkish schools,' as they are often called,? writes Saul, "has come with a measure of backlash, not all of it untainted by xenophobia.?

Though there don't appear to be any smoking guns here, the story should be read in conjunction with Jay Greene's limits and dangers of philanthropy essay, as it raises important issues about charter accountability ? in this case, it's less about academics...

The New York Times' education columnist Michael Winerip spoils another good story today.? Instead of giving us a profile of a great teacher evaluation program, he turns Jerry Weast's Peer Assessment Review system in Montgomery County, Maryland, into another excuse to throw punches at the school reform movement. ?One need not have to reject Jay Greene's interesting contention that ?organizations are incapable of innovating? in order to believe that education reform is possible in traditional school systems. But can't we at least applaud what Weast is doing in his 145,000-student district without having to follow Winerip down a somewhat slippery trail to conclude that Weast's success is Race to the Top's failure?

As Winerip rightly points out, the PAR program is a wide-ranging professional development system (invented, says Harvard Ed, in the early 1980s by teacher union leader Dal Lawrence in Toledo) ?that includes lots of mentoring by senior teachers and a ?panel? of teachers and administrators that actually votes to fire teachers. According to Weast, who has run the Maryland district since 1999, it took several years ?to build the trust? in teachers that ?we weren't playing gotcha.?? But in the 11 years since Montgomery County introduced PAR, reports Winerip, its panels have fired 200 teachers and persuaded another 300 to leave voluntarily ? this compared to just five teachers fired the previous ten years.

Sounds promising.? And Weast has been justly praised by many people for his successes -- which he is rightly...

Though American education has taken few actual steps to pattern itself on other countries, in recent years we've displayed a near-obsessive interest in how we're doing in relation to them (e.g. on TIMSS and PISA results), and in what they're doing and how they do it. We at Fordham have found ourselves doing this a couple of times and we've periodically reviewed major analyses of ?education success stories around the world? by the likes of McKinsey. We've also read our share?OK, more than our share?of paeans to Finland, Singapore, you name it. (At the U.S. Education Department, I helped lead a study of Japanese education as long ago as 1988.) I've also?long admired Marc Tucker's tireless efforts to get American educators and reformers to understand and appreciate how other nations address challenges that often resemble our own.

Old GlobeWhich isn't to say I always agree with him. And that's true of his latest paper, too?drawn from a book coming out in September.?He seeks to determine "what education policy might look like in the United States if it was [sic] based on the experiences of our most successful competitors." In that role, he casts Canada (Ontario), Finland, and three East Asian lands (Japan, Singapore, and the Shanghai region of China.) And in fifty pages he offers a wealth of insights that are surely perceptive yet not entirely applicable on these...

There has been the ?silver bullet? debate, the ?secret sauce? battle, the ?demonize teacher? tirades, and the ?cracking the code? kerfuffle over Waiting for Superman. Now, according to Diane Ravitch, it's the miracle workers perfidy. Sinners, get ye to your rosary beads ? and fast!

According to Ravitch, writing in a recent New York Times op-ed essay, titled, of course, Waiting for a School Miracle, all these high-powered education reformers, from President Obama to Arne Duncan to Jeb Bush to Michael Bloomberg, are claiming ?miracles? for their reform efforts; and Ravitch is there, a one-woman Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Devil's Advocate, to throw some almighty holy water on the hype fires.

Unfortunately, while accusing these folks of? ?statistical legerdemain,? Ravitch commits the sin of rhetorical tromperie: none of her targets claim anything miraculous. ?I will leave to others the task of sorting out Ravitch's claims about the? accuracy of the reformer's claims, but from the research I've seen so far, nobody's cooking books ? the dispute seems to be one of whether the glass is half full or half empty. And Ravitch proves herself? as good at cherry- and nit-picking as the next guy or gal.

The problem is that slippery rhetoric is as unhelpful as saucy statistics.? In her Times essay Ravitch very clearly cites four speeches (including a press conference) and four schools, ?to illustrate her point that ?the accounts of miracle schools demand closer...

A friend emailed this morning:? ?Breathtaking."? It was the first of many such emails and phone calls.

They were all referring to our board of education's vote last night (a board I am a member of) to impose a school budget that raises the local property tax levy by 9.8 percent (triple the New York state average) and, by the way, a budget that was soundly rejected ? by a 3 to 1 margin of 18% of registered voters ? at the polls on May 17. As I wrote then, the board overruled the popular will just minutes after the results were in because ? well, because it could (see the ?contingency? law below), 4 to 3. Aside from getting the Tin Ear award for politically dumb moves (the gang of four might have waited a respectable few days, at least, before rubbing their power in the voters' noses), the rush to tyranny revealed a great deal about the board's isolation from its community, not to mention a deafness to some harsh economic realities (it is a poor community with average family income of just over $30,000, and an unemployment rate of about 9 percent). Needless to say, the community roared back, packing the high school cafeteria a few days later, forcing one of the four to change his mind and the board to rescind its previous vote and promise to go back to the drawing board. As I wrote last week, Round 2 had gone to...

I'm not sure how many of the 200-plus people who packed our cafeteria last night had read Rick Hess' How Supes and Principals Should Not Respond to Tight Budgets, but it was as if Hess were channeling (a new power of his) the room as our supes and principals and teachers and board of ed were taken to the proverbial woodshed by a crowd of angry taxpayers, who said, in no uncertain terms, Get Real! The district (i.e. the administration and board of ed) had tried to pull a fast one last week, hiding behind the skirts of the state's ?contingency? law (the phrase ?this is not the USSR!? was used several times last night, though, unfortunately, in this matter I'm sorry to say the resemblance is a little scary) to impose a property tax levy increase of 9.8 percent, just minutes after voters had rejected that notion by a whopping 3 to 1 margin.? ?This is a democracy!? was shouted numerous times during the hour-long public tongue-lashing. And at some point in the haze of hoorahs and cheers as the board voted to rescind its decision from last week and go back to the drawing board, I felt a whoosh of air behind me and turned to see ? no lie -- Mssr. de Tocqueville, notebook in hand, scurrying from the room?.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow...

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