Articles in the School Reform category

The week in blogs

What? You’re tired of the election already? So how about that economy!

Sorry, bad joke. But I just had to point out a great blog — “Off the Charts,” from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — that I stumbled on last night while writing a story on (what else?) the election. Read the post by Senior Fellow Michael Mazerov on why cutting or eliminating state corporate taxes is a bad idea. Then see State Fiscal Project Director Nicholas Johnson on why this will be the states’ worst budget year ever.

I said it was a “great” blog; I didn’t say it was happy. Because, as Johnson explains, next year could be even more dismal for states – and for the school districts that depend on them for much of their funding.  Earlier posts offer helpful comparisons of states and their projected shortfalls.

Elsewhere, Diane Ravitch wrote a devastating review of the movie Waiting for Superman in the New York Review of Books called “The Myth of Charter Schools.” For those public school advocates who thought the film was a trifle, well, biased toward charters – no high- or even decent-performing regular public schools were featured – you might take heart from the Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss, who said in her blog that the critique from the influential Ravitch might even prevent the film from winning an Oscar.

Finally, read Maureen Downey, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s “Get Schooled” blog, about how a determined principal turned around a low-performing Alabama elementary school and made it one of the highest performing in the state. She did it with hard work, perseverance, and an unwavering belief that disadvantaged students can excel.

My favorite part is when the principal tells her staff: “Whatever your expectations are for these kids, triple them today. They’re not high enough.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|November 5th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Homeless People, Policy Formation, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Film’s spotlight on education leaves much to be desired—in filmmaking

The much-anticipated “Waiting for Superman” documentary has been in theaters in some areas for a month now. It’s kept us plenty busy writing commentaries and analysis about its simplistic and unfair portrayal of public education and how school boards need to promote a more positive message.


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Naomi Dillon|October 25th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Reform, Student Achievement|Tags: , |

The week in blogs

Still swooning over Waiting for Superman, NBC’s Education Nation, and Oprah Winfrey’s gushing praise of  D.C. Schools Chancellor (and “warrior woman”) Michelle Rhee?

What? You’re not swooning?

Whatever. For another view of all the hoopla, read Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog, entitled “The Strange Media Coverage of Obama’s Education Policies.”  

“NBC seemed to take for granted that Obama’s education policies are sound and will be effective,” Strauss wrote. “Seasoned journalists failed to ask hard questions and fell all over their subjects to be sympathetic. It was a forum for people to repeatedly misstate the positions of their opponents.”

 Sort of like Congress?

No, this is not “The Week In Washington Post Blogs” but I also must mention Jay Mathews’ revealing piece on how quite a few education college professors still don’t “get it.” For example, Mathews cites a poll showing that only 24 percent of professors said it was
“‘absolutely essential’ to produce ‘teachers who understand how to work with the state’s standards, tests and accountability systems.’”

That’s odd. Because even if you are opposed to more and more standardized tests and state standards (and many teachers are, with some justification) you’d still have to learn how to function in that environment. I mean, I don’t relish going to the DMV, but I still have to get a license. (That makes sense, right?)

Moving on, Joanne Jacobs cites a New York Times story saying more schools are adopting Singapore’s math curriculum.  And finally, read Anne O’Brien’s blog on a book that says …  surprise! … research supporting No Child Left Behind is not necessarily very strong.

Now are you swooning?

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|October 1st, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|

NSBA’s Bryant speaks on tenure reforms in recap of “Education Nation”

NBC’s Education Nation summit placed an at-times harsh spotlight on the nation’s public schools in two-and-a-half days of panel sessions that featured a little bit of everything. On Sept. 29, NBC released a video recapping the three-day summit, which included remarks by NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant on reforming teacher tenure.

The ambitious multimedia event, streamed live on the web and shown in excerpts on NBC News and the conglomerate’s multiple cable channels, drew a who’s who of star power from education, politics, and entertainment, complete with bickering, tears, posturing, and, ultimately, wary-but-determined hope.

Did anyone get off their pre-established soapboxes? Not really. Will it result in lasting change? The jury’s still out. Did it pay attention to a deserving — if not the deserving — issue of the 21st century? Absolutely.

Overall, the sessions I saw — except for one notable exception — generally were balanced. The events touched on math/science performance, the global economy, the need for highly qualified teachers, the battles between reformers and unions, and, especially, the plight of low-income minority students in high-need urban schools.

On that front, it was not anything new or revolutionary. But then again, the issues are not new.

One of my biggest fears was that the event would be a two-plus day infomercial for “Waiting for Superman,” the new documentary that I have very mixed feelings about. And those fears were not allayed on Sunday, when the film was shown under the tent in Rockefeller Center to an invitation-only crowd of 300 that stuck around for a panel session featuring director Davis Guggenheim, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, D.C.’s public schools, and Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone.

You can’t help but be impressed by Canada, whose fervent desire, entrepreneurial spirit, and outright chutzpah have led to a great success story in one of the toughest areas of the country. I also appreciated the fact that he went out of his way to note that charters are public schools, some traditional public schools work as well as his, and the crisis we face is one we all should embrace.

The Rhee/Weingarten battles, which continued throughout the summit, became tiresome, as did the relentless bashing/undermining of the work of teachers’ unions. I will never go down as the biggest fan of unions, but it was nice to see Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter come to Weingarten’s defense with regard to contract negotiations.

Speaking of Duncan, the man is everywhere. I have never seen an education secretary be so passionate about getting his message — whether you agree with it or not — out to the public. And Nutter provided a nice counterbalance to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, whose allegiance to Rhee was a factor — but not the sole factor — in losing his bid for re-election earlier this month.

If there was one group that was underrepresented, it was school board members.

NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant was featured on the closing panel that aired Tuesday, and NSBA President Earl Rickman was in attendance. However, only a handful of school board members attended, and they represented other groups, such as parent organizations that were invited to the summit.

That fact wasn’t lost on Andres Alonso, chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools. Speaking at a session titled “Change Agents: How do we reinvent the status quo at all levels?” he pointed out that no school board members were on the panel and only two were in the audience.

“They should be here discussing these issues,” Alonso said. “Reform in the absence of the board of education is problematic.”

Alonso said the board’s work in Baltimore is “some of the reason we’ve been effective.” He noted a time early in his tenure when the board supported his plan to close underutilized schools, even though he received a no-confidence vote from the union.

“I told them, ‘This is what I can predict what will happen,’ and it did,” Alonso said. “Throughout everything, with the vote of no confidence from the union, the board’s support was huge. Even though there was some contention behind closed doors, ultimately their support was huge.”

Amen to that.

-Glenn Cook

Sound bites from the three-day session:

• President Obama, from Today Show interview: “Part of the challenge, I think, for the entire country is to understand that how well we do economically, whether jobs are created here, high-end jobs to support families and support the future of the American people, is going to depend on whether or not we can do something about these schools.”

• Tom Brokaw, prior to an interview with Education Secretary Arne Duncan: “The private sector has an enormous stake in our success … especially as we operate in a global environment. It’s a rising tide around the world. Do we become part of it or do we become submerged by what is going on elsewhere?”

• Andres Alonso, chief executive officer of Baltimore Public Schools, on reforming his district: “This is incredibly hard work. It requires that we all work together, and I don’t mean in a kumbaya way, but understanding that it’s incredibly hard. … There’s not a single city in America that’s doing their job right. The question is, can we make fast progress that puts us on that pathway?”

• Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee: “This has reaffirmed what we know. We need to change and dramatically improve our education system. … It’s happening in some places, but not across the nation. We’re caught somewhere between the 19th and the 21st century.”

• Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News Anchor: “This is a national issue. It’s very close to a national security issue. When did we lose the threat? When do you think we decided we could make this anything less than a top priority?”

• Joel Klein, New York City schools chancellor: “This is a political business we are in, and the status quo will always have fierce defenders. I have to pay math and physical education teachers the same thing, and as a result I have a shortage of math teachers. When you truly professionalize teaching and have true competition … I think we’ll move the system in a way where teachers find it much more congenial and exciting. If you don’t shoot for excellence, you will come up with mediocrity every time.”

• Duncan on passing the buck: “There is much more common ground than people realize. Unions have to move. Superintendents need to move. Students need to move. Let’s stop blaming. Let’s stop pointing fingers.”

• Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty: “To go forward people are going to have to be willing to take political risks. These kids cannot wait; one year is too long.”

• Gwen Samuels, Connecticut parent: “We’re here today because we are in crisis. You’ll call us for an ice cream social but you won’t call me because my child has a better pathway to prison than to college.”

• Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Chief State School Officers: “Are we asking the right question? Is this about fixing schools, something created in a time past under very different circumstances? Or are we about educating all children to a high level?”

• Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on changing schools: “It can happen. It takes a whole community approach. You have to be involved. You have to be empowered. It’s a checking of massive egos at the door. I don’t run the schools. I don’t have authority over them, but I feel the responsibility for them. Education is economic development.”

• Miller: “This country talks about how they want a moon shot. They want a Sputnik moment. Folks, this is it.”

Words and phrases used by speakers ad nauseum: Change agents, achievement gaps, tipping point, status quo, void, crisis.

Glenn Cook|September 30th, 2010|Categories: School Board News, School Reform|

Duncan promotes teacher recruiting, defends AFT leader at “Education Nation”

Pointing to a huge loss of teachers expected over the next decade, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced plans for a national campaign to recruit young professionals into education, starting with a new website — teach.gov — that is “a soup-to-nuts explanation of what it takes to become a good teacher.”

Duncan noted that research shows the difference effective teachers make. “If you have three good teachers in a row, you’ll be one and a half to two years ahead. If you have three poor teachers in a row, you’ll be behind and never catch up.

“What we’re doing as a country isn’t good enough,” he said. “We lose almost 1 million high school students to the streets. A decade ago we led the world in college graduation. Now we’re ninth.”

Duncan, in a one-on-one interview with NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw at the “Education Nation” summit, said the campaign is working to recruit 1 million new teachers over the next five years. The greatest emphasis will be in recruiting male teachers, especially minorities, and in finding qualified staff for the hardest-to-fill positions (math, science, and special education).

“If you look across the country today and put black males and Hispanic males together, it’s 3.5 percent of the teacher workforce,” Duncan said. “If we’re serious about having young men aspire to go to college, we have to put men in their lives. … We lose almost a million students from our high schools each year to the streets.”

“We have to elevate the status of the teaching profession. The countries that are outperforming us today are getting the best and brightest to go into education.”

Brokaw asked whether Duncan’s push would be effective at a time when four out of five school districts are cutting positions.

“It’s a little tough in the short-term,” Duncan said, “but there are a couple of thousand teacher jobs available today at teach.gov. As the economy bounces back you’ll see those numbers change.”

Weingarten gets backing from Duncan, others

Randi Weingarten, the controversial leader of the American Federation of Teachers, is the de facto villain in “Waiting for Superman.” Teachers unions are seen as the hardcore barriers to reform in the documentary, and Weingarten was forced to defend her union’s stances in panel sessions throughout Education Nation.

Weingarten and Michelle Rhee, Washington, D.C.’s equally controversial chancellor, have no love for each other and the two sparred repeatedly. And Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, who was defeated in his re-election bid earlier this month based in large part on his education agenda, referred to the AFT as an “obstructionist force” in a panel session.

However, Weingarten did get some support from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, among others.

“In hundreds and hundreds of school districts, you see management, boards, and unions working together,” Duncan said. “Unions are signing on to bold reforms … We need to do a better job of spotlighting, a better job of highlighting, because these things are occurring quietly but very very courageously.”

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter noted that Weingarten had helped the teachers union negotiate a contract that allows for Saturday and extended-day programs in the district’s empowerment schools. “That’s a game changer,” he said.

Miami Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said districts face “an impossible juggling act” between state mandates and federal policy that have forced unions and administrators to come to the table.

“It’s no surprise that Florida has the vast majority of its unions negotiating MOUs (memorandums of understanding) on Race to the Top,” Carvalho said. “If they do not change and adapt, unions, they will perish.”

-Glenn Cook

Glenn Cook|September 29th, 2010|Categories: School Board News, School Reform|

“Education Nation” panel: Are politics of education a blood sport?

One session at NBC’s “Education Nation” should make school boards take notice–and not in a good way.

In a panel chaired by “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, the opening video promised a look at the “pros and cons of how public schools are governed at the local level.” It then proceeded to show adults fighting in school board meetings, flashed headlines that noted examples of bad board conduct, and focused on the controversy surrounding the firing of the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. (For more on that, read American School Board Journal‘s article in its September issue.)

“Grownups often need a lesson in good conduct,” Gregory’s voiceover said. “… Is the politics of public education often a blood sport?”

The members included three urban superintendents (New York’s Joel Klein, Miami’s Alberto Carvalho, and Boston’s Carol Johnson), former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, and Gregory McGinity of The Broad Foundation.

Klein, who became chancellor after Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrested control of New York City’s schools, said centralized accountability is necessary. A supporter of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty, Klein said he did not understand the “push back” that cost Fenty re-election and could cost Rhee her job “when they were doing what to me obviously was the right thing.”

“Doing nothing and winning is something that has been occurring in public education for far too long… There are a lot of hands on the steering wheel pulling this thing in different directions,” he said. “We need mayors to be accountable. We need governors to be accountable. I’m not real big on boards, which is a thing for some people here, but that’s how I feel.”

Spellings noted that 90 percent of the resources in public education come from state and local government. She said the federal government should be concerned about “outcomes, results” and “leave the how to local administrators, states, and governors, and legislatures.”

The group she neglected to mention: school boards.

“The strategies of 10 years ago were all tactics,” said Bredesen, the Tennessee governor. “Now it’s accountability. Get rid of all these intermediaries. Put it on the governors and the mayors.”

The group he neglected to mention: school boards.

Broad’s McGinity said states and the federal government have taken responsibility for accountability because local control has not worked.

“We have local control and we have continued failure — 40 years of failure,” McGinity said. “It’s the state government’s responsibility and the federal government’s responsibility to find out the cause of that failure.”

McGinity then noted that education policy is “light years ahead of where we were 10 years ago.”

“Do we still have a long way to go? Absolutely. We need to look at strong leadership,” he said. “School boards need to be responsible for making sure they get great leaders in there. We’ve still got a lot of reforms to go, but we’ve come a long way.”

Klein and Spellings noted that the politics of education cut across party lines.

“The perception is that this thing isn’t working and our future is at peril if we don’t do something about it. When came in here eight years ago, people said we can’t fix education until we fix poverty,” Klein said. “Now people believe what I believe: We’ll never fix poverty until we fix education.”

Spellings said education reformers are a nontraditional mix of civil rights leaders and the business community. Partisan politics do not have a place, she said, when it comes to education.

“This movement,” she said, “is big.”

-Glenn Cook

Glenn Cook|September 29th, 2010|Categories: School Board News, School Reform, Student Achievement|

NSBA’s Bryant touts local control at “Education Nation”

NSBA Executive Director Anne Bryant participated in the closing session of NBC’s “Education Nation” summit on September 28, reminding policymakers that education remains “a local issue” despite increased federal involvement in schools.

“Education is a local issue,” Bryant said during the session, titled “Talking to Your Policymakers.”

“Most of the funding comes from state and local jurisdictions,” she said. “I hope Race to the Top doesn’t go away, but if it does, we have to be prepared.”

Bryant was part of a 10-person panel that included Education Secretary Arne Duncan, three members of the U.S. House of Representatives (Democrat George Miller and Republicans Shelley Moore Capito and Michael Castle), two governors (Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm and Tennessee’s Phil Bredesen, both Democrats), two mayors (Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter and Washington, D.C.’s Adrian Fenty), and Gene Wilhoit, a former state superintendent who now is executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The panel answered questions from a group of parents, teachers and community activists during the two-hour session moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams.

Responding to a statement by Pam Heuer, an Indianapolis teacher who raised reading levels in her high school class, only to get laid off, Bryant noted that the reason was likely her lack of seniority compared to other teachers. After Heuer nodded affirmatively, Bryant said better compensation and reward systems are needed for the best teachers.

“I think that’s a real problem,” she said. “We have been talking for two days about compensation systems that are different than we have today, and something needs to be done about it. School boards care passionately about keeping the best teachers in schools, and that means changing the system that is in place. School boards want that flexibility.

“We’ve got to focus our priorities on investing in the quality of teachers,” she added.

Williams asked Bryant if the policy of “last in, first out” was fair and she shook her head, saying “That’s why we have to change collective bargaining agreements.”

Bryant also made a note about charter schools that was picked up by the rest of the panel: Local school boards authorize 55 percent of the charters in the U.S. She said school districts need the flexibility to close charters “when they’re not good.”

Bryant noted that 75 percent of the population does not have children in school, and that districts — and boards — need to do a better job of engaging that segment of the community.

“We need to wake up the nation. That is our priority in the future,” she said. “That’s the role of the local board of education.”

-Glenn Cook

Glenn Cook|September 29th, 2010|Categories: Announcements, Governance, School Board News, School Reform|

Education headlines: NBC kicks off “Education Nation” with Obama interview

President Obama was interviewed about education reform on NBC’s Today Show this morning, the kick-off event for the “Education Nation” summit, a week-long series of discussions and stories designed to focus attention on the state of public education. NBC has set up a live streaming channel on its Education Nation website to watch the events continuously. The website also includes links to stories features on NBC newscasts, including articles about teachers getting more involved in reforms, a follow-up of the class of 2020, and commentaries about the state of public education and the Obama administration’s proposals. Tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., live on cable news channel MSNBC, NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant will participate in a panel discussion with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, governors, mayors, and will take questions from parents, teachers, musician John Legend, and others.

In another series of stories, the Washington Post reports on the President’s remarks about D.C. public schools and provides a transcript of his interview.

Joetta Sack-Min|September 27th, 2010|Categories: Announcements, School Board News, School Reform|

NSBA’s Bryant speaks on 21st century skills at “Education Nation”

NSBA Executive Director Anne Bryant is featured in a video segment that appears in The Nation section of the Learning Plaza at NBC’s Education Nation.

The video, subtitled “Policies and Perspectives,” includes 15 to 45 second interviews with top educators on four topics: standards, teachers, the achievement gap, and competitiveness. Bryant is featured in the competitiveness section with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Warren Simmons of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

“Learning has changed in this country dramatically. Jobs have changed dramatically,” she says in the segment. “The people that businesses want to hire today have to have a different skill set than they needed 20-30 years ago.”

Bryant says that school boards “are absolutely focused on 21st century skills — analyzing data, critical thinking, problem solving. They are taking the information that is out there and making sense of it” for the benefit of students.

Featured in the other categories are:

  • Teachers: Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Randi Weingarten president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, DC schools.
  • Standards: David Coleman, co-author of Common Core Standard; Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell; and Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education and standards critic.
  • Achievement Gap: Former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings; Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Education Network; and Pedro Noguera, author and professor of education at New York University.

The Learning Plaza is located in the courtyard of Rockefeller Plaza and is open to the public throughout the week.

Bryant will be featured Tuesday on the closing panel of the three-day televised portion of the summit. The panel, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (time subject to change), airs live on MSNBC.

-Glenn Cook

Glenn Cook|September 26th, 2010|Categories: Announcements, School Board News, School Boards, School Reform|

ASBJ editor’s review: “Waiting for Superman” oversimplifies education reform

So was it worth the wait?

The highly anticipated documentary “Waiting for Superman” opened today in New York and Los Angeles, boosted by unanimous raves, an hour-long Oprah special, and buzz by film critics nationwide. Davis Guggenheim’s new film, which rolls out nationwide in October, also is expected to get another bump from NBC’s “Education Nation” summit next week.

The theater was almost full at a 10:55 a.m. showing in one of the two New York theatres playing the film, and the 7:30 p.m. showing already was sold out at the Lowes Lincoln Square 13. Interest was so high, in fact, that a second theater was added during the early showing.

From an entertainment standpoint, and thanks to an almost unparalleled marketing campaign, Guggenheim has ramped up the debate about our nation’s public schools in a way that the best films do. He hitches the narrative to sympathetic, interesting characters and draws them into a sort of good vs. evil battle with the highest stakes of all — the education of our children. But in doing so, he also misses the mark.

By casting teachers, and more specifically, teachers unions as the film’s villains, Guggenheim goes for an easy target. Examples of school boards and traditional administrators are shown in films made in the 1950s and ’60s. And while the brush is not quite broad enough to paint charter schools as the be-all, end-all for public education — only 17 percent of charters perform significantly better than their traditional public counterparts — the only success stories shown in the film are charters.

Guggenheim’s case is boosted by five adorable children — all with loving, sincere parents who are seeking admission to high-performing charter schools via a lottery. Innovative, charismatic reformers — Geoffrey Canada, who provides the source of the title, and Michelle Rhee, the controversial Washington, D.C., chancellor — are without question upheld as the heroes.

You can’t help but feel for these families as the lottery balls drop, and knowing the outcome in advance — I won’t spoil it for you here, but needless to say it’s not a fairy tale — makes the inevitable ending all the more heartbreaking.

As the credits roll, Guggenheim notes that, “The problem is complex but the steps are simple.” And that’s my biggest beef with his movie. By failing to properly outline the complexities found in our public schools, he also has done a disservice to viewers who are being called into action. In the end, nuance is all but lost in the interest of drama.

Given the publicity tsunami behind “Waiting for Superman,” you can’t help but wonder whether it will resonate with the vast populace. A $40 million gross for a documentary is considered huge, compared to the $100 million that fictional films must make to be considered as blockbusters.

If anything, one hopes that all of the coordinated publicity around public education will result in some significant conversations about what can be done to improve our nation’s schools.

-Glenn Cook, Editor-in-Chief, American School Board Journal

Joetta Sack-Min|September 25th, 2010|Categories: School Board News, School Reform|Tags: |
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