In a fascinating study of interest group influence on school board elections, Stanford political scientist Sarah Anzia offers new reasons for dropping special spring school district elections. And, as if on cue (though I don't know that there is any causal relationship), education reform governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana (also a GOP presidential candidate prospect), just signed into law, according to Sean Cavanagh of Ed Week, ?a measure to make major changes to school board elections around his state.?? The change in Indiana would move school board elections (from the spring) to the fall, said Daniels in his recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute, because ?nobody votes? in the spring elections:

It's a lot easier? for an interest group to dominate the outcome and elect a friendly school board in the sparsely attended primary elections. And so now they will have more of the public at least eligible or at least on hand to take part in those elections, we'll see if it makes a difference.

According to Anzia's research, it should make a big difference. In a country with more than 500,000 elected officials, most of whom are not elected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (the so-called regular cycle elections), she finds that school districts ?with off-cycle elections pay experienced teachers over 3 percent more than districts that hold on-cycle elections.?? Not surprisingly, the pay differential increased for the most senior teachers:? those with more than ten years...

David Brooks had a sobering column in yesterday's Times, warning that America is going soft.? Or, as he puts it, ?the country is becoming less vital and industrious?. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.? Though the essay isn't about education, the lessons apply. Brooks could have written that a fifth of our high schoolers in many places are not getting up and going to school.

Though Brooks's premise lacks nuance ? he attributes our loss of industriousness to the fact that only about 80 percent of American men between ages 25 and 54 are now working, compared to 96 percent in 1954 ? the point is similar to the one that has roiled education for a few decades: our schools have become ?less vital and industrious.? As we all know, our NAEP scores are flat, our SAT scores are flat, our graduation rates, flat ? and worse.

Why that is has, of course, been the source of endless argument among educators and policymakers. (There remains a healthy contingent of educators who deny that those indicators even have validity.)? Brooks attributes the nation's loss of vitality to, in part, the fact that ?more American men lack the emotional and professional skills they would need to contribute.? This would seem to apply to schools, where increasing numbers of children don't have the wherewithal ?to contribute.? ?Could that be because we are not asking them to contribute? ?(Remember the...

According to The Nation, ?thousands of working people, students, seniors, people on public assistance, and community activists? will be descending on Wall Street this Thursday ?to protest ?the city's billionaire mayor's? announced intent to eliminate 6,100 teaching positions (2,000 through attrition and the rest in layoffs).? Not surprisingly, according to the magazine, ?participants include SEIU workers, the United Federation of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America, ACT UP, Code Pink, Greater NYC for Change, Urban Youth Collaborative, the Working Families Party, and many more.? ?See the full list of sponsors at the event organizers website, where you will learn that ?There is no revenue crisis; there is an inequality crisis.? The Big Banks that crashed our economy, destroyed jobs, caused millions to lose their homes, and bankrupted city and state budgets, are reaping record profits?and yet they are refusing to pay their fair share of what it will take to rebuild our economy. From Wisconsin to Wall Street people are fighting back!?

Even if one sympathized with ?these folks' sentiments about the financial ?inequality crisis? or believed for a second or two that it was the big banks that ?crashed our economy,? the question is where the big unions ? and their contrail of sympathizers -- have been during the inequality crisis in education the last thirty years. Their silence in the face of crushing inner city educational failures has been deafening.? Not a single protest, that I know of, during this long inequality crisis.? Unfortunately, the...

Amy Fagan

As you may know, last week we hosted a terrific event here at the Fordham Institute, Are Local School Boards Vital in 21st Century America?

Our excellent panel consisted of: Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association; Gene I. Maeroff, founding director of the Hechinger Institute, Teachers College, Columbia University and author of School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy; Christopher S. Barclay, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Maryland; and our own Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute. The group was moderated by Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Mike Petrilli.

I?wanted to?quickly highlight a recent?interview Mike did with about the event. (There have been a few other write-ups about the event too, including this one from the NSBA.)

Also, since we didn't have time during the event to get to all of the questions that folks had emailed in, we thought we'd throw one out to the panelists after the fact and see what they had to say.

We actually saw a few email questions about credentials for school-board members. We'll paraphrase here. Basically folks wondered whether there should there be minimum requirements for local school-board candidates? An undergrad degree or at least a 2-year college degree? What are some other qualifications for those who are making curricular and budgetary decisions for the county's students?


Just in the nick of time, another Teach for America / Joel Klein School of Big City Reform alumnus is heading off to take the reins of a troubled city school district. (John White, a TFA/Klein alum is on his way to New Orleans.) According to the Times, Cami Anderson, all of 39 years old, ?faces the monumental task of rescuing an urban school system [Newark] that has long been mired in low achievement, high turnover and a culture of failure, despite decades of state intervention.? ?Says the WSJ, Anderson ?will attempt to reform the largest and one of the most troubled public school systems in the state.?

She has her work cut out for her.

For an idea of how long Newark has been struggling, see David Skinner's 2006 story in Ed Next. The district was taken over by the State of New Jersey in 1995. (I do hope Anderson considers a new motto for the district: I'm not sure how old it is, but ?Changing hearts and minds to value education? does not quite convey a sense of optimism about the future.)

The Newark job should be somewhat lighter thanks to some serious money from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who, with great fanfare, promised $100 million to the district last fall. ?But the money seems to come ? and it's unclear whether any has come ? with some strings and some questions, including how to leverage it if and when...

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is a new name in education circles, but not to me. Having lived in the state my whole life, I proudly supported him from the days his popular, ?One Tough Nerd,? ads started popping on TV in early 2010. In the August primaries he pulled a shocking upset and went on to win the general election by a landslide. But since taking office, his efforts to erase deficits through drastic budget cuts have left him a villainous figure to many Michiganders. These are many of the same people you hear decrying his new education plan. By introducing these reforms while trimming the state's K-12 education budget by 4%, Snyder is hoping to do more with less. Personally, I couldn't be more in favor of the breath of fresh air he's blowing into the Michigan education system, but there's a lot more at play.

Snyder's plans, while promising, will take time to enact; schools, on the other hand, must act on his budget restrictions immediately. In Michigan, a state where union membership is mandatory for public school teachers, archaic ?last hired ? first fired? policies are still controlling who gets laid off. By not addressing collective bargaining, Snyder's education cutbacks will end up dealing an unintended blow: the jobs of young teachers. I know this because it could have been me. When I joined Fordham last fall, I passed up an offer to teach civics and history at a public high school...

Unions are not to blame for the severity of public pension shortfalls, but that doesn't mean that taking a hard look at collective bargaining is a bad idea. Matthew Di Carlo at Shanker Blog called yesterday for pols and commentators to stop blaming the nation's public pension issues on collective bargaining. He has a point, but I can't run with his conclusions here:

I find little evidence that the unionization of public employees has any effect ? whether positive or negative ? on the fiscal soundness of state pension plans. This, along with the fact that we already know why pensions are in trouble, and it has little to do with unions, once again represents strong tentative evidence that the push to eliminate collective bargaining is misguided, and the blame on unions is misplaced. States with little or no union presence are, on average, in no better shape.

Pensions are far from the only issue at hand. The Pew report cited by Matthew shows that, in addition to the $660 billion gap in pension systems, there is a $604 billion shortfall to pay for generous health benefits for public-sector retirees. This gap has little to do with the financial crisis, because states didn't have much savings to lose in the markets to begin with.

The absolute level of health care liability per person ? not the gap, but the dollar amount states will have to shell out eventually ? seems to be related to unionization density....

Though I thought the recent Fordham discussion about whether school boards were a ?vital? part of 21st century education was a great one, I would not have singled out Anne Bryant, president of the National School Boards Association, as Mike did in his post, as the newest entrant into ?the pantheon of impatient reformers.?

Mike praises Bryant for taking on the unions and arguing, during the debate, that...

unions buying the school board's seat is just plain wrong. There should be the distinction between management and labor and governance, and management and labor?.? I have to admit that having the kind of situation that Gene [Maeroff, member of the panel, board member of Edison, NJ, and author of a new book on school boards] described to me about the candidates being put up by the union doesn't always get you the best school board members.

Mike's conclusion about these remarks ? that ?similar words could well have been spoken by Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Jeb Bush, or any other dyed-in-the-wool reformer? ? are understandable, in the narrow sense that they indicate Bryant's willingness to take on union power.? But his extrapolation that those words mean that ?school boards continue to be influenced if not actually captured by the unions? and that ?there just might be a fatal flaw with elected local boards? is pushing it.

The fatal flaw here is not ?elected local boards,? but the failure of our policymakers and legislators to ensure the...