Much will swiftly be written about Arne Duncan's brand-new Race to the Top competition for school districts (and, interestingly, for charter schools and consortia of schools), and it's premature to say much on the basis of early press accounts. But Alyson Klein's invaluable Ed Week blog flags one fascinating tidbit that suggests a welcome new Education Department focus on the failings of today's school-governance arrangements:

Will the NSBA and AASA react angrily to this goring of their own members' oxen?

Just to be eligible, districts by the 2014-15 school year will have to promise to implement evaluation systems that take student outcomes into account—not just for teacher and principal performance, but for district superintendents and school boards. That's a big departure from the state-level Race to the Top competitions, which just looked at educators who actually work in schools, not district-level leaders. [Emphasis added]

How very refreshing, even exhilarating, to see the inclusion of superintendents and boards in a results-based accountability system, rather than the customary focus only on schools and their principals and teachers (and sometimes the kids themselves). Will the NSBA and AASA react angrily to this goring of their own members' oxen? Or will...

The Gadfly’s "grand swap"

Mike and Rick analyze Senator Alexander’s ed-for-Medicaid trade and critique America’s private-public schools. Amber delves into a startling SIG success story.

Amber's Research Minute

School Turnarounds: Evidence from the 2009 Stimulus

We’ve often questioned whether the local school board remains the best governance model for public education. We’re not sure whether the Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) shares such fundamental concerns, but it is certainly interested in improving the school boards we’ve got. Its new report profiles a baker’s dozen highly variable district boards, drawing from these case studies characteristics of successful school boards—and of the other kind. Top-notch boards (determined by whether they are linked to improved student achievement) have: limited and clearly defined responsibilities (limited to core, high-level, and strategic goals); stability (essential for reform, but not an end in itself); effective board training (which can help overcome dysfunction); and positive relationships with superintendents (with both parties proactively communicating). Struggling boards (those marred by infighting, financial issues, and low student achievement) also share some common traits: They are often voted in during “off cycle” elections (with limited voter turnout dominated by interest groups), are highly politicized, and have large (and diverse) constituencies. One treatment for ailing school boards, according to the ICW, is (not surprisingly!) strong business-leader engagement. Take...

Guest blogger Michelle Rhee is the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots movement working to improve the nation’s schools. She previously served as chancellor of Washington D.C. schools and before that founded The New Teacher Project, which helps districts recruit effective teachers to challenging schools. Michelle began her career as a classroom teacher in Baltimore.

Too often decisions are made and policies are set based on the interests of adults in the system rather than student needs.

As I spend time visiting and studying school systems across the country, I see many bright spots. But I also see far too many places where children are being educationally shortchanged. That’s reflected in the still-enormous gaps between what poor and minority students know and can do academically and the performance of their wealthier, white peers. And it’s also reflected in the growing gap between American students and their peers overseas.

So how did we get here and what do we need to do to give our kids—all our kids—the twenty-first century education they deserve? 

I can’t point to any one policy that is responsible for holding our kids...

Where are the wild things?

Checker joins Mike on the podcast to recount his recent investigation of Asian gifted education and predict the outcome of California’s waiver gambit, while Amber has some issues with a recent report on the Common Core’s potential.

Amber's Research Minute

William Schmidt Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement - Download the Powerpoint

Guest blogger Anne L. Bryant is the executive director of the National School Boards Association.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) held its 72nd Annual Conference in Boston, April 21-23, and more than 5,000 school board members and superintendents enjoyed inspiring remarks by CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien, Khan Academy Founder Sal Khan, and President of Harlem Children’s Zone Geoffrey Canada. We also held more than 200 sessions and workshops on topics such as the common core standards, new trends in educational technology, community engagement, and strategies to turn around low-performing schools.

But perhaps the biggest star was our 2011-12 president, Mary Broderick, of East Lyme, Conn. In her term as president, Broderick has passionately articulated the need to allow teachers and students the freedom to think, teach, and learn. She’s fascinated by motivation research and for years has studied the impact of federal and state policies, particularly the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), on classrooms.

She began writing a letter to President Barack Obama during her travels as NSBA president, soliciting comments and advice...

Guest blogger Jay P. Greene is the 21st Century Professor of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University.

Being against greater national control over education policy is not the same as being for local school districts. I appreciate Peter Meyer giving me the opportunity in this space to explain what I am for when it comes to school governance.

Fundamentally, I am for parental control over the education of their children, so I guess that I am for as little governance over education as we can manage. In my ideal world, which I’ve tried to explain and justify at greater length in this book chapter, parents would be given as much money as is minimally necessary to fulfill their obligation to educate their children and would choose the location, manner, and content of that education. Since education is just a subset of all of the activities in which parents engage to raise their children to be productive adults, we should defer to parents as much in how they educate their children as how they raise...

The Gadfly’s spring line is out!

Janie and Daniela debate designer Kenneth Cole’s foray into education reform and the Department of Education’s CTE overhaul, while Amber examines turnover among charter school principals.

Amber's Research Minute

The State of the NYC Charter School Sector by New York City Charter School Center

The pineapple and the gadfly

Standardized testing, school closures, and a pineapple: Rick and Janie cover it all this week, while Amber wonders whether weighted-student funding made a difference in Hartford after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Funding a Better Education: conclusions from the first three years of student-based budgeting in hartford

Before the real-estate bubble burst, there was a growing literature on the link between government regulation of housing and home prices. Tougher zoning restrictions, it seemed, drove up the cost of housing. This Brookings Institution report builds off this notion: Restrictive zoning regulations—such as those that limit the construction of high-rise apartments or other multi-family units in certain neighborhoods—not surprisingly create cities that are segregated by income and race. And that, in turn, produces unequal access to quality schools. By loosening or even eliminating restrictive zoning, cities may see housing-cost gaps narrow by as much as 63 percentage points and see school-achievement gaps narrow as a result, Rothwell writes. (In other words, less zoning results in less segregated neighborhoods, and less segregated schools.) In the meantime, district-choice plans, charter schools, and school vouchers can help offset the effects of zoning, the author argues. Unfortunately, in these tough economic times, districts are too often restricting school choice—by drawing tighter attendance zones around specialty schools or by denying bus service to them. That’s a poor way to save money. And if Rothwell teaches us anything, it’s that quality choices...