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May 2010 Archives

The NJEA's New Handbook: How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

The AFT and NEA might want to start rethinking their "we're special and should be protected from budget cuts because we're there for the kids" strategy. Kevin Manahan, of the Newark Star-Ledger editorial board, wrote a column last week suggesting that, at least in New Jersey, the union shtick has worn thin. His beat down of the New Jersey Education Association may serve as a useful cautionary flag for teachers unions across the land. (Just check out the raft of reader comments Manahan has attracted; a quick scan seems to suggest they're running strongly anti-union). I'm not in the habit ...


$23 Billion Equals How Many Jobs?

Regular readers know that I'm highly skeptical of the proposed $23 billion bailout championed by Senator Harkin and Secretary Duncan and now being carried forward in the House by Representative David Obey. Happily, the prospects for this ill-conceived proposal seem to be sinking. The legislation ignores the fact that many states flew through two years of stimulus money in the first year, rewards states and districts for the hiring binge they've been on, reduces the impetus for districts to make serious management decisions, violates the President's pledge to embark on a discretionary spending freeze, and merely kicks the can down ...


Sec. Duncan on Innovation at the Aspen Institute

Yesterday, the Aspen Institute hosted Secretary Duncan and i3 chief Jim Shelton for a lunch conversation on educational innovation. There were maybe 35 or 40 folks in attendance, including hotshot supes Jack Dale and Jerry Weast, a handful of influential wonks, a smattering of reporters, reform studs like Common Core avatar David Coleman and New Leaders honcho Jon Schnur, NEA executive director John Wilson, and other assorted heavyweights. On the whole, I thought it was better than Duncan's formal speeches. He spoke without any evident notes, pretty much steered clear of the "it's for the kids" rhetoric, didn't filibuster, and ...


Assessing Rep. Chu's Attack on School Improvement Grant Program

California Congresswoman Judy Chu's office has issued a fierce indictment of the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The report, with pretensions of quasi-scholarly cred, has attracted the notice of some SIG advocates. Chu's analysis, with the assistance of a couple dozen exceptionally vague citations, argues, "Instead of providing teachers and administrators with the tools necessary to build better schools, the [SIG] models deprive schools with the flexibility necessary to respond to the specific needs of their students." Chu references the Commission on No Child Left Behind approvingly, arguing that the Commission "has asserted that it is critical to fully understand ...


What the Gulf Oil Spill Can Teach Us About School Spending

We're watching a slow-motion disaster unfold in the Gulf, as BP and Transoceanic fumble around with booms, siphons, and talk of "junk shots" while hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil a day spew into the Gulf. Our attention is focused on public hearings and how to contain the damage. Fair enough. But we might want to take a moment to think about how we got here. We're drilling in deep-water and, at least up until a few weeks ago, were aiming to do a lot more of it because of our enormous appetite for crude oil. Perhaps the most ...


The For-Profit Question

So long as we recognize that it is no wiser to romanticize them than to demonize them, we absolutely ought to welcome for-profits into the education sector. For that reason, recent administration moves to favor nonprofits and public operators and to marginalize for-profits, in areas such as i3 and higher education, are problematic. For-profit providers rarely make an explicit case for their own existence, because they're so busy trying to curry favor with public officials and because parents are so worried about for-profits' public image. There's much discussion of choices and love of at-risk children, but little adult discussion of ...


Help Wanted

Hey, nothing particularly funny, interesting, or incendiary today. Just an announcement, straight up, that I'm looking for a new research assistant as part of my AEI team. If you're just starting out, are intrigued by the chance to plunge into an array of K-12 and higher education issues, and want to see the world of education policy from a prestigious D.C. address (17th & M, to be exact), please shoot a note to my crack research assistant Daniel Lautzenheiser at dlautz@aei.org. One of the few perks, for those who might be interested, is that Daniel, along with his ...


Is a Little "Unum" Really So Bad?

In Monday's Washington Post, education columnist Valerie Strauss took issue with Arizona superintendent Tom Horne for promoting legislation (focused primarily on ethnic studies classes) that "pretends to be about education but is all about politics." Strauss wrote, "If you think Arizona state government officials would have something better to do than go after an ethnic studies program they don't like, you'd be wrong." Strauss reports that Horne is so over-the-top that he thought it inappropriate for a Hispanic activist to tell Tucson high school students that "Republicans hate Latinos." Maybe it's because I'm some kind of bitter partisan, but I ...


Stories Begging for Some Love

I was out last week at the Education Writers Association conference in San Francisco. Impressive production, first-rate assemblage of veteran education writers (including Greg Toppo, Richard Colvin, Nick Anderson, Ben Wildavsky, Linda Perlstein, Scott Stephens, Dale Mezzacappa, and on and on), and an auspicious backdrop for the news that the uber-respected Lisa Walker is stepping down as executive director and passing the torch to the razor sharp Caroline Hendrie. I spent some time talking to reporters about important stories that have thus far received limited attention. In that spirit, I here offer eight story ideas that reporters or bloggers might ...


Straight Up Conversation: RI Chief Deb Gist on the Central Falls Deal

Best quote of the day yesterday was Mass Insight CEO Justin Cohen telling me his take on the Central Falls deal. "There are deals and there are good deals," he said. "This is a good deal." I think that's just right. The point of tough management is not to collect scalps but to change the tenor of the deals that get struck. And that's what happened when the Central Falls High teachers endorsed their new deal yesterday. The final accord makes it clear that not only was there no compromise, but Central Falls Superintendent Fran Gallo, who started the negotiation ...


Live from RI: "I Love It When a Plan Comes Together"

Big news yesterday out of Rhode Island's Central Falls--the city where Superintendent Fran Gallo dusted off the dreaded "turnaround" bomb earlier this year--as the Central Falls Teachers' Union folded and acceded to Gallo's demands. In return, Gallo backed off the mass firing she'd launched. Some observers might regard Gallo's move as a disappointing reversion to powder puff school management, especially after reading the weak-kneed press release stuffed with promises that all the union ever wanted is "what is best for our students." But such concerns are misplaced. Gallo's play shows how stiff-spined management is supposed to work--by forcing unions and ...


The Hard-Hitting Pondiscio on Edutopia

On Tuesday, the Education Next website released Robert Pondiscio's new piece on Edutopia (full disclosure: I'm an executive editor of Ed Next). In "Edutopian Vision," he takes clear aim at George Lucas's educational foundation, Edutopia. Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher who writes about education at the Core Knowledge blog, skewers their six "core concepts" and slams Edutopia for promulgating a particularly problematic version of 21st century skills. As Edutopia asserts, it has six core concepts based on evidence of "what works," but Pondiscio takes a look and finds "little proof" to back Edutopia's claims. What are the six core concepts? ...


"Washingtonitis"? Weingarten's Too Clever By Half

On Tuesday, over at the National Journal blog, AFT honcho Randi Weingarten blasted those who would use Harkin's unfunded $23 billion bailout as an opportunity to overhaul problematic, industrial-era labor practices that inflate costs and consume scarce dollars. She termed the Education Trust's proposal--that federal bailout aid be made contingent on states striking down strict "last hired, first fired" policies--to be a harmful and "academic" example of "Washingtonitis." Now, there are reasonable questions to ask about the proposal (does it just apply to state statutes? Would it impact contracts?), but it's a smart idea that would lend hard-pressed districts essential ...


Mike Johnston, Superstar

Big news yesterday out of the West. While at the NewSchools Venture Fund Annual Summit, got word that Mike Johnston's path-breaking teacher quality bill (SB 10-191) had made it through the Colorado House on a 36-29 vote. This, as I've said previously in the midst of the fight over Florida SB 6, is "seriously big stuff." Indeed, Pam Benigno, director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, called it a "landmark day in Colorado," saying the bill "will align evaluated teacher and principal effectiveness more closely with student academic growth and weaken tenure protections for consistently ineffective teachers." ...


Budgetpalooza...Or, Mr. Mulgrew, Have I Got a Speechwriter for You

Between the National Journal debate over Senator Tom Harkin's $23 billion bailout, the European Union ponying up a cool $1 trillion to stanch the bleeding in Greece, Mike Petrilli getting frisky on teacher firing, and my own dalliances in NYC teacher policy (see here or here), this is turning out to be quite the week for bailout mania. Four different thoughts spurred by all this. First, I was struck by this gem from the Washington Post story on the Greek bailout. George Perros, member of the executive committee of the Pan-Hellenic Workers Front, sounded for all the world like he ...


The First Rule of Holes

After yesterday's post on NYC teachers and the fiscal crunch elicited such an appreciative and cheery response (or not), thought I'd stay with the theme for another day. This week, over on the National Journal's "Education Experts" blog, there's a debate about what conditions (if any) ought to be attached to Senator Tom Harkin's $23 billion education bailout. For those of you who thought yesterday's post to be harsh, fair warning: my stance is harder-edged than most. The first rule of holes is: When you're in one, stop digging. Well, we're in a massive hole. And Senator Harkin's solution seems ...


NYC Teachers and the Greek Rioters, Kindred Spirits...?

On Friday, I penned a modest op-ed for the New York Daily News which argued that, in light of New York City's budget crunch, it was reasonable to lay off up to 6,400 teachers (potentially 8% of the teacher workforce). I wrote, "Not only would the layoffs of thousands of teachers not mean the sky is falling...thinning the teacher ranks, done right, could be a very good thing." I further asserted, "Smaller classes would be good if a school district could hire all the great teachers it wants and if funding were unlimited. In the real world, neither ...


The State of Charter School Authorizing

Today, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) released its second annual survey of charter school authorizers (full disclosure: I'm a member of the NACSA board of directors). The survey included all authorizers with ten or more schools--accounting for nearly two-thirds of the nation's charter schools--and a sample of smaller authorizers. The report offers some terrifically informative data even before one gets to the survey results (even more disclosure: I'm a member of the research advisory board that assisted with the survey). Discussions of chartering and charter authorizing are frequently clouded by confusion as to just what they entail. ...


Fascists in Flip-Flops: Musings from the 2010 AERA Conference

Props to sly Mike Johanek, director of UPenn's midcareer Ph.D. program and Race to the Top reviewer extraordinaire, for this post's title. Only question for you, readers, is the identity of the fascist. I will say that I may have been the only conference attendee in chilly Denver wearing flip-flops. Result: I did a panel with University of Wisconsin's Michael Apple and he probably looked more like the D.C. policy wonk, while I probably bore more than a passing resemblance to the stereotypical critical race theory prof. Keep reading, and I welcome comments on who you think Johanek's ...


Watering Greenfield

The lifeblood of efforts to rethink schooling or devise new solutions is the money it takes to make them work. These dollars can come from three sources: profit-seeking investors, philanthropy, or government. To date, the lion's share of the bucks have come from philanthropy. In a new piece published today in Education Next, "Fueling the Engine," I explore why entrepreneurs have had trouble raising funds and how the philanthropic sector has sought to tackle that challenge. (The article is an excerpt from my new book Education Unbound). This is all of particular relevance today, as more than 2,000 districts, ...


Too Fast and Too Furious When It Comes to Teacher Evaluation

Much as I'd feared, preparations for round two of Race to the Top (RTT) seem to be impelling states to overshoot the mark when it comes to teacher evaluation and pay. Generally laudable proposals like Florida's Senate Bill 6 and Colorado's Senate Bill 10-191 suffer from the "fix the world in one pass" syndrome. Advocates who are waging an admirable fight to end or dramatically scale back hyper-rigid, industrial-era state policies governing teacher tenure and compensation display a worrisome tendency to mandate that, henceforth, teachers will be evaluated in large part on (thus far) largely nonexistent, hyper-rigid, value-added metrics. This ...


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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