Board's Eye View

A fascinating story in the New York Times about schooling in India has a few things to teach American educators; mainly, that the poor really do want a good education. (I have had extended discussions with colleagues about the question of educating the poor (see here, here, and here) and Kathleen Porter Magee’s The “Poverty Matters” Trap is a must-read for anyone investigating the subject.)

As it turns out, public schools in India, like many in the U.S., are apparently lousy – “in many states,” write Vikas Bajaj and Jim Yardley about India, “government education is in severe disarray, with teachers often failing to show up.” But unlike the U.S., where charter schools and vouchers have begun to offer alternatives, In India the poor have turned to a network of private schools to educate their children. It is much as James Tooley described it in a 2005 story in Education Next (and his subsequent book, The Beautiful Tree), recounting amazing stories from around the world:

[T]he poor have found remarkably innovative ways of helping themselves, educationally, and in some of the most destitute places on earth have managed to nurture a


The controversy over the recent New York Times front-page slam of K12 Inc. was ostensibly about the company’s inability to deliver online education (see CEO Ron Packard’s reply here), but one of the more interesting parts of the ensuing debate was not about computers and education but about delivering education for profit – which is what Packard’s company does. (Full disclosure: I have done some editing work for K12.)

This morning Walt Gardner, who writes the Reality Check blog for Education Week, penned a letter to the Times editor that seems to sum up the anti-profit school of thought pretty well:

Agora Cyber Charter School [the K12 school that was the Times’ whipping post] serves as an instructive case study of what happens when schools are run like businesses. The profit motive always assures that the education of students takes a back seat to the enrichment of investors.

Nevertheless, free market advocates have managed to exploit the frustration and anger felt by taxpayers over the glacial progress of traditional public schools to advance their agenda. In the end, it will become clear that it’s impossible to provide a quality education and show a profit at


Last year I attempted to rank the top education stories of the year using Google (e.g. 2,200,672 results in 0.18 seconds versus 1,607,000 results in 0.12 seconds). It was fun, but it was bit too nuanced (algorithmically speaking) to work. (My top ten stories of the year, according to this measure, were: 1. Race to the Top, 2. Bullying, 3. Recession and public school, 4. Common Core Standards 5. New York Wins Race to the Top, 6. Parent Trigger, 7. Waiting for Superman, 8. Character Education, 9. PISA results 2010, 10. Arne Duncan.)
So, this year, I simply Googled for “Education 2011” stories and found some good summaries of the year’s top education events—and Rick Hess’s predictions of next year’s important issues and trends. Without further ado:

The Condition of Education 2011

This is a fascinating report from the National Center for Education Statistics that, says NCES, summarizes “important developments and trends in education using the latest available data. The report presents 50 indicators on the status and condition of education, in addition to a closer look at postsecondary education by institutional level and control. The indicators represent a consensus of professional judgment on the...

Ray Pinney
Member outreach coordinator, New Jersey School Boards Association

Guest blogger Ray Pinney is member outreach coordinator for the New Jersey School Boards Association. In this post, which originally appeared on the NJSBA BoardBlog, he reflects on Fordham and CAP’s Rethinking Education Governance conference and what governance reform means for the Garden State.

After I graduated from college, I took the summer off and backpacked
through Europe because I figured that it might be the last time I could
travel without time constraints (of course, I was right about this).
 Not being able to speak the native languages provided some funny and
not-so-funny incidents. In any case, I am sure most of you have been in
a situation where the discussion is hampered by the two people not
speaking the same language. It can be frustrating at times and shows
how simple things can become so complicated.

A few weeks ago, I described an education reform program I attended,  Rethinking Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century,
which was sponsored by the Fordham Institute.  The presenters were for
the most part academics with impressive credentials. For those who
have been part of public education for...


Okay, it's not exactly what Rupert might condone, but since he and his crew are preoccupied and because our News Nuggets shop has plenty to do, I offer some education highlights from my weekend reading:

Charter Fights Move to the Suburbs Winnie Hu had a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times documenting a small trend in the charter movement to open more of the independent public schools in suburbs: about one in five of the nation's 5,000 charters are now in the ?burbs.? Not surprisingly, the story raises some existential questions about public education. ?Mike calls attention to the article in his Myth of the ?good? school post this morning, pointing out that ?One person's `good school' is another person's `bad fit.'? ?But there is also a ?financial question here, which is whether we can afford a good school, or even a good fit, for everyone. Is the computer the answer? Just as we citizens and taxpayers pool our resources to build common roads and ?provide for the common defense,? our ?public school system? has traditionally supposed that we get better education by having common schools. Traditionally, that has meant a central location. But if...

This is indeed a bold consolidation of power. But the plan also calls
for turning Indianapolis into a district of total choice, in which all
schools would compete for students — a bold diffusion of power.

Terry Ryan said it well, praising The Mind Trust’s Indianapolis school reform plan, Creating Opportunity Schools, as a “bold and dramatic transformation of public education akin to what has taken place in New Orleans and New York City." And it's true that “the most controversial part of the reform plan,” as Terry writes, “calls for neutering the role of the current IPS [Indianapolis Public Schools] school board, while turning governance over to a new five member board appointed jointly by the mayor and the City-County Council.” This is indeed a bold consolidation of power. But the plan also calls for turning Indianapolis into a district of total choice, in which all schools would compete for students — a bold diffusion of power. By combining mayoral authority and parental choice, as Paul Peterson suggests in his masterful 2010 book Saving Schools, The Mind Trust proposal would create “a marriage made in heaven”:

Theoretically, the excellence movement’s two central thrusts


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...


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.

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....