School reforms abound today, yet even the boldest and most imaginative among them have produced—at best—marginal gains in student achievement. What America needs in the twenty-first century is a far more profound version of education reform. Instead of shoveling yet more policies, programs, and practices into our current system, we must deepen our understanding of the obstacles to reform that are posed by existing structures, governance arrangements, and power relationships. Yet few education reformers—or public officials—have been willing to delve into this touchy territory.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress have teamed up to tackle these tough issues and ask how our mostly nineteenth-century system of K-12 governance might be modernized and made more receptive to the innumerable changes that have occurred—and need to occur—in the education realm. We have commissioned fifteen first-rate analysts to probe the structural impediments to school reform and to offer provocative alternatives.
While the firsttwo sessions of last Thursday’s Fordham-CAP Rethinking Education Governance conference explored problems posed by the way America governs education, the afternoon panels focused on potential solutions. In the third session, Michael Minstrom, Barry Rabe, Richard Walley, and Paul Manna attempted to draw lessons for education governance from other sectors and countries.
In the final segment, Checker moderated a discussion of big-picture governance reforms that featured Paul Hill, Kenneth Meier, Jon Schnur, and Paul Pastorek.
For years, government has plastered new regulations upon old, thickening the bureaucracy and making it ever harder to move within its confines. In Colorado, for example, new rules for day-care centers specify exactly how to execute nearly everything—including the number of block sets (two) and the number of blocks (minimum of ten) needed in each playroom. An anecdote, yes; but hyperbole or exception, no. Modern regulation, as Common Good’s Philip Howard writes in the Wall Street Journal this week, “doesn’t just control undesirable practices—it indiscriminately controls all the work of regulated entities,” arresting all human discretion, good and bad. While the gut-wrench reaction is simply to blow up the house, thick plaster and all, there’s a smarter way. Some old-fashioned inputs are important (Colorado does want to ensure that their day-care centers aren’t operating in window-less basements filled with asbestos and...
Chris Cerf, New Jersey’s acting commissioner of education, stopped by last Thursday’s Rethinking Education Governance conference to deliver a thought-provoking address on the role of governance in improving public education’s outcomes. Drawing on his experience with education systems in New York City and the Garden State, Cerf gave his take on “a new and improved model of government.”
Want more? The first and second panels can be viewed online and we’ll be releasing the rest of the footage tomorrow on Flypaper.
The second panel at last Thursday’s Rethinking Education Governance conference examined one of the most entrenched aspects of our governance system: local control. From interstate standards to mayoral control, experts Margaret Goertz, Kathryn McDermott, Ken Wong, Rick Hess, and Jeffrey Henig evaluated our other options in a lively discussion.
If you missed last Thursday’s Fordham-CAP Rethinking Education Governanceconference, you’re in luck: In the coming days we’ll be posting all the action here on Flypaper. To start off, Cynthia Brown, Michelle Davis, Marguerite Roza, and Steven F. Wilson provide a primer on what’s wrong with our governance system, breaking down how it hinders innovation while perpetuating inefficiency and inequity.
To learn more, download drafts of participants’ full papers and keep an eye on Flypaper for more footage from the conference.
t was a bit odd to see Charles Blow (of the New York Times) take out after Newt Gingrich for saying that “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works.” I had just returned from an inner city school where teachers and administrators and parents were saying the same things as Gingrich. In fact, I’ve been hearing these complaints from teachers – and business leaders – for years. Teaching children the “habits of working” is a growing part of the school reform movement.
For the last couple of weeks Gingrich has been tossing read meat to the liberal wolves in ways that only the Grinch who stole Christmas can. He has also suggested that poor kids do janitorial work in school – and earn money doing it. According to politico.com, the former West Georgia State College history professor told a Kennedy School of Government audience that. It’s worth an extended quote, because Gingrich needs context to make up for the lightning-bolt phrases he drops in throughout:
Mike and Rick come out swinging after their
Thanksgiving respites. In Pardon the Gadfly, they attack our current governance
model, sympathize with Newt Gingrich, and consider what to do about private
donations to public schools. Amber brings autonomy down to the school level and
Chris requests a State of State Moral Standards.
Despite America’s romantic attachment to “local control of public education,” the reality is that the way it works today offers a worst-of-both-worlds scenario. On the one hand, district-level power constrains individual schools; its standardizing, bureaucratic, and political force ties the hands of principals, stopping them from doing what’s best for their pupils with regard to budget, staffing, and curriculum. On the other, local control isn’t strong enough to clear the obstacles that state and federal governments place before reform-minded board members and superintendents in the relatively few locales where these can even be observed.
Sure, remarkable individuals can sometimes make it work, at least for a while: Michelle Rhee (backed by Adrian Fenty) in the District of Columbia; Joel Klein (backed by Michael Bloomberg) in New York City; Arne Duncan (backed by Richard Daley) in Chicago; Jerry Weast (abetted by a rising budget) in Montgomery County, Maryland. Readers can surely cite additional examples. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule.