A new round of the popular education board game, Poverty Matters, began last week with a New York Times op-ed
by Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske, titled, “Class Matters: Why Won’t We
Admit It?”  (Interestingly, the essay is really about poverty, not
class, and the paper that Ladd wrote on which the essay is based is
titled Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence.  See also Kathleen Porter-Magee’s The `Poverty Matters’ Trap from last July’s Flypaper.)

Ladd and Fiske’s essay was one of those broadsides that spreads
through the teacher ranks like a brush fire. I received my email copy
from one of our district’s veteran teachers, a hard-working, dedicated
woman who rarely misses an opportunity to remind me that she and her
colleagues would be doing a fine job were it not for unmotivated kids
and their irresponsible parents.  And Diane Ravitch weighed in
calling to mind, in tune with the season, the story of Scrooge and Tiny
Tim, offering to “update this tale for today’s school reformers” by
calling attention to Ladd and Fiske’s op-ed. (Ravitch says she uses
Ladd’s Education and...

voodoo doll photo

The power of the voodoo. Who do? You do. Do what?
Photo by Juha-Matti Herrala

2005’s hurricane catalyzed one of the largest
governance experiments in American education to date, as Louisiana implemented
its Recovery School District law under which it took responsibility for the
worst schools in the Big Easy (and a few others throughout the Bayou State).
While other state-takeover initiatives have seen mixed results, Louisiana’s push has yielded big upticks in student-test scores. Two reasons why
Louisiana’s initiative has fared well: It doesn’t get bogged down in the
schools’ day-to-day operations. (It offloads that responsibility onto school
leaders—where it belongs.) And it scraps the current edu-governance system (no
more school boards, locally elected or otherwise), giving site management over to
charter networks and other external providers. The idea has some converts:
Michigan (with
its Education Achievement System
) and Tennessee both recently announced the
creation of their own...

While I’m still digesting the papers and footage from the recent day-long Rethinking Education Governance for the 21st Century
symposium (sponsored by Fordham and the Center for American Progress), I
want to call your attention to some intriguing outlier governance
events and stories.

First, on NPR recently,
CNN host Fareed Zakaria said that the Founders were so “obsessed with
the problem of absolute power” that they created an unworkable
government. “The system in Washington is so unwieldy that in order to
get everybody to agree, [it] would seem to take a miracle and would
perhaps take decades.” Is that good or bad?  (Checker and Mike
suggest that, as far as education governance goes, we’ve got to return
more powers to the states.) On the same NPR show, former Congressman
Mickey Edwards argued that the problem is not the Constitution – and the
governance structure it created – but the party system. Sure, you can
create an efficient government, like China, said Edwards, “the people
just get in the way.” He continued: “Well I think that’s nonsense. We
don’t need to...

It wasn’t considered one of the top five moments of Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, according to the New York Times, but it should have been. After Romney attacked Gingrich for his Harvard proposal to put poor kids to work as school janitors (see my post last week) the new GOP front-runner, having taken some hits for his earlier  comments (see my friend, Bronx teacher Mark Anderson), proves himself an able barometer of public opinion, dropping the kids-as-janitors idea but not losing his direction:

Kids ought to be allowed to work parttime in school,
particularly in the poorest neighborhoods, both because they could use
the money — if you take one half of the New York janitors, who are
unionized and are paid more than the teachers. An entry-level janitor is
paid twice as much as an entry-level teacher. You take half the
janitors, you could give lots of poor kids work experience in the
cafeteria, the school library, in the front office and a lot of
different things. I’ll stay by the idea that young people ought to learn
how to work. Middle class kids do it routinely.


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.


The Education Gadfly

While the first two 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 more, download drafts of participants’ papers and stream all the video from the conference, including Chris Cerf’s lunchtime keynote address, on the Education Gadfly’s YouTube channel....

baby bundled up photo

Drop some of those onerous layers, government!
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

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...

Testimony prepared for delivery to the Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives, August 4, 1999.

The Education Gadfly

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 Education Gadfly

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.

To learn more, download drafts of participants’ full papers and watch the first panel on Flypaper.