While everyone is following New Jersey's public union bombshell vote, my friend E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center in Albany reports on a new maneuver by the New York State United Teachers to end run? the property tax cap being promoted by new Governor Andrew Cuomo.? ?As McMahon says, the cap is not even through the state legislature yet and NYSUT is trying to circumvent it:

An egregious fiscal abuse on its own terms, the bill (S.4067-A) would allow school districts across the state (except for New York City) to issue 15-year bonds to cover a portion of their rising teacher pension costs over the next several years ? at least $1 billion in all, by one estimate.? The measure was introduced two months ago at the behest of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) as a way of reducing pressure on teachers to make contract concessions.

The drama in Albany continues.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

Don't miss this morning's front-page New York Times story on public unions. ?Writer Charles Duhigg offers a comprehensive report on the mess we've gotten ourselves into by giving away public money, we now don't have, to public unions, which want more.? Duhigg understands the fundamental, and anti-democratic,? paradox in public unions' DNA:

[P]ublic workers have a unique relationship with elected officials, because government employees are effectively negotiating with bosses whom they can campaign to vote out of office if they don't get what they want. Private unions, in contrast, don't usually have the power to fire their members' employers.

Therein lies a problem.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

2011 may already be a banner year for education reform (in part thanks to the foundation laid in 2010). Policymakers and education activists in many states (and in D.C.) have just cause to smile?and to soak in the victories that have been won. But don't assume that these victories will be long-held?or that they will spell great change for our hobbling education system?without targeted and sweeping changes to the nation's education governance structure. We can no longer ignore our antiquated governance arrangement?no matter if the subject bores us or we view attempts to change it as politically futile.

So says Checker Finn in the journal Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution Journal, released today.

He goes on to explain whence our current one-size-fits-all model of schooling originated?and why it's such a lemon now. Yet, despite all this, Finn notes that ?structural change in education is not totally impossible.? It'll be a hard squeeze?and will require not just the creation of lemonade but the planting of a whole new orchard of different fruits.

Finn further outlines what a new governance arrangement might look like, at least in part:

With the governor squarely in charge of education, states would wield most of the authority and provide most of the money, but those dollars would follow kids to the schools of their choice, which would largely run themselves, selecting their staffs, managing their budgets, etc. Most would be brick and mortar structures but many classes would be online. Some schools


Pennsylvania is trying to fix a thorny problem with virtual schools. If two kids attend a virtual school, one from a high spending district that sends along $10,000 in their backpack to the virtual school, and another from low spending district that sends $6,000, the former child's district is subsidizing the latter's education. It's a tough issue.

The solution proposed on Monday by Rep. James Roebuck (D-Phila.) is extreme, however. He proposes that the state pay the entire bill for virtual-school students, as well as youngsters in traditional charter schools, leaving more resources to educate fewer kids in district schools. Since there's on a finite amount of money available for public education in the state, this short-changes children who attend schools of choice.?The proposal also defeats one of the purposes of school choice: competition for students and the resources to educate them.

Virtual schools present some unique governance and school-finance challenges, but rewarding districts for failing to serve kids effectively is not a good solution. Instead, Pennsylvania legislators should develop a financing system where the state steps in to correct disparities but still allows as much local funding as possible to follow a child wherever he or she goes in the education system. Pennsylvania's citizens are taxed to provide resources for all children in public schools, not to preserve buildings and jobs in the traditional system of district schools.

?Chris Tessone...

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...