Philly’s Schools Phuture?

During the research for my book, one of the most interesting and depressing tidbits I uncovered was that the handful of high-performing, high-poverty traditional public schools described in No Excuses had not been grown by their districts. The central recommendation of my book is that the “four principles of chartering” should be applied across all three sectors; that includes growing great schools of all types (charter, private, and district). Charter growth has been happening via CMOs for more than a decade now, but the Philadelphia Schools Partnership has found a number of district schools to expand. Interesting development.

Addressing Non-urban Poverty

It appears that, slowly but surely, the education-reform community is paying more and more attention to the needs of low-income kids in rural areas (more on this from Bellwether soon). For years now, the primary focus has been on America’s cities. Maybe it should come as no surprise that Teach for America is stepping forward; TFA has long had a number of non-urban outposts. Its new program is designed to train TFA alum for school leadership positions in rural America. This is a tiny program, at least initially, but it’s a start.  Good luck, and well done.

Impervious to Competition?

Probably the bitterest pill I’ve had to swallow as a conservative ed reformer is that competition (from charters and choice programs) has had a positive but negligible influence on urban school districts. Ten years ago I honestly believed that if charters/choice programs took 5, 10—is it even conceivable?—15 percent of a district’s market share, then we’d see a tectonic shift for the better in urban district performance. I was wrong; many, many cities now have even larger percentages of kids attending schools other than those assigned to them by the district, yet these failed urban districts are as low-performing as ever. I’ve gotten over my shock and sadness, realizing this phenomenon does not impugn competition; instead, it’s just more evidence for how irredeemably broken these districts are. About 10 years ago, the estimable Rick Hess wrote about these matters in this excellent book.  If you’d like a more recent treatment, check out this just-released article on how principals in Milwaukee—a hotbed of educational options—think about and respond to competition. It is eye opening.

NCLB Waivers

Eric Smith, former Florida state chief and current fellow at the Bush Center, pens an excellent and hard-hitting piece for the WSJ on the anniversary of A Nation at Risk and the virtues of NCLB, with implications for the administration’s waiver policy and ESEA reauthorization.

Paying for the Transition

In the latest edition of National Affairs, Tevi Troy writes a fascinating piece about the new presidential transition process—new because of a recent federal law that includes money for planning by a prospective administration. If you just like politics and history, you’ll find plenty of interesting stuff in the article. But if you’re into federal-level executive-branch policymaking—development, implementation, agencies, staffing, etc.—you’ll really like this. Want to know how people end up on high-level position short-lists (or get left off)? Curious about the lines between campaign team and transition team? Just want a peek behind the curtain of real-life government stuff? Give it a read.

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