Harold Kwalwasser

Harold Kwalwasser was the General Counsel of the Los Angeles Unified School District from 2000-2003. Previously, he had served in the Clinton Administration and as a senior staffer in the California State Senate and the United States Congress. He currently writes and consults on education issues. In 2009-10, he visited 40 high performing and transforming school districts to see what is working in American education as part of his research for his book, Renewal, Remaking America's Schools for the 21st Century, which has just been published by Rowman and Littlefield.

The BIG Question: What’s the most important governance issue?

We have spent most of the last three years watching Congress contemplate reauthorizing No Child Left Behind.

That contemplation has involved endless discussions of all sorts of issues and ideologies, but it has missed what may be the most important question in American public education today: Can we trust school districts to deliver the kind of education we want for our kids?

Does trust matter? Absolutely.

There are two indisputable facts that underscore the importance of trust. On the one hand, there are absolutely terrific districts in this country. They are so good and so effective at teaching every...

March (ESEA) Madness?

Mike and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke step outside to debate the place of climate science in standards and whether John Kline’s ESEA proposals stand a chance, while Amber looks at the relative merits of a four-day school week.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week - Download the PDF

Guest blogger Neerav Kingsland is the chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans. In this post, originally published on the Title I-Derland blog, he explains the lessons education reformers can learn from Europe's transition away from communism.

Andre Shleifer, a professor of Economics at Harvard, recently wrote an excellent article: “Seven Things I Learned About Transition from Communism.” In case you don’t know Andre, some consider him to be the most cited economist in the world.

The analysis is interesting throughout—it deviates from both
“progressive” and “conservative” talking points on key issues. Take five
minutes and read the whole thing.

For those of us Relinquishers
who see opportunity in moving public schooling from government-operated
to government-regulated and non-profit run, lessons abound. For those
skeptical of these types of reforms—lessons also abound. See below for
the summary of Andrei’s lessons—laced with my takeaways for improving
our educational system:

Lesson 1: “First, in all countries in Eastern Europe
and the former Soviet Union, economic activity shrunk at the beginning
of transition, in...

Save the podcast!

Mike and Janie make the case for keeping the Education Gadfly Show going with witty analysis of Common Core critics, student discipline follies, and the GOP’s education conundrum. Amber delves into teacher dissatisfaction and Chris asks “What’s up with that?” one last time.

Amber's Research Minute

 The MetLife survey of The American Teacher - Download the PDF

What's Up With That?

Teacher's health insurance policy includes free plastic surgery.

The conventional wisdom among
reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have the political
will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in
place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most
policies aren’t “self-implementing,” we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to
add up to a hill of beans.

Those of us at the Fordham
Institute (and our partners at the Center for American Progress) have been making
the case
that our governance structures impede our ability to do
implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards,
susceptibility to interest group capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always
inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into real change on the
ground. I’ve wondered
out loud
whether we should abolish school districts and run the whole kit
and caboodle out of state departments of education.

How about creating a “virtual education ministry”
that school districts would choose to associate with voluntarily?

That’s still a tantalizing idea,
but probably too radical...

Everyone predicted that Justice
Cynthia Kern’s ruling
last January to allow the release of the value-added
scores for New York City teachers—with the teachers’ names—would set off a
firestorm when the names were released (which is what
when Los Angeles did the same thing in 2010). And it did.

“Teachers will be right in feeling assaulted and compromised,” declared
Merryl Tisch
, chancellor of New York
State’s Board of Regents, just after New York City released
some 18,000 teacher evaluations to the public last week.

“The arrogance of some people to say that the parents don't
have the ability to look at numbers and put them in context and to make
decisions is just astounding to me,”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg shot back
. “This is about our kids' lives. This is
not about anything else.”

It is possible that in a different era, a court might very well have
concluded that releasing teachers’ names was quite insane.

That pretty much set the tone for the debate: another assault on
teachers versus the public’s right to know. And it turns out that the best

Sounding off on "snobs" and Santorum

Mike and Rick break down the week’s news, from the prospects of John Kline’s ESEA reauthorization proposals to the college-for-all controversy. Amber analyzes the latest report on Milwaukee’s voucher program Chris wonders whether robbing a bank is enough to get a school bus driver fired.

Amber's Research Minute

The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

School bus dispatcher was bank robbery getaway driver -

Rethinking Education Governance Session IV: The Way Forward

Rethinking Education Governance Session IV: The Way Forward

What's next? This panel brings together a group of "big thinkers" to hash out a plan for education governance in the twenty-first century. What should the structure look like? Who should helm the wheel? And how can we bring these thoughts into action? Paul Hill, Kenneth Meier, Jon Schnur, and Paul Pastorek will engage in a roundtable discussion to think through these questions.

Rethinking Education Governance Session III: Alternative Approaches

Rethinking Education Governance Session III: Alternative Approaches

Many lessons on effective governance arrangements can be pulled from other sectors--and other nations. During this panel, authors Michael Mintrom, Barry Rabe, and Richard Walley will explain what insights can (and can't) be drawn from other countries—and from other federal initiatives, like healthcare and environmental policy. Moderator Paul Manna will also present a paper by Sir Michael Barber on lessons from British education-reform efforts.

Moderator: Paul Manna, associate professor, College of William and Mary

Rethinking Education Governance Session II: Traditional Institutions in Flux

Rethinking Education Governance Session II: Traditional Institutions in Flux

This panel calls into question the ideal of local control. Its panelists—including Jeffrey Henig, Frederick M. Hess, Kathryn McDermott, and Kenneth Wong—will investigate the rise of mayoral control, the growth of interstate collaboration, and the role of the state and federal governments in education. Discussant Margaret Goertz will prod panelists to explain these shifts--and what they think each means for education in the twenty-first century.

Moderator: Patrick McGuinn, associate professor, Drew University