July 2010 Archives

Lesli Maxwell has a revealing story in Ed Week pointing out that districts are reluctant to take aggressive steps when competing for School Improvement Grant dollars. This is a familiar story to anyone who's paid attention to NCLB-mandated restructuring, but it's important nonetheless. Also worth checking out is Mass Insight's Justin Cohen's deliciously acerbic take on the situation....


Every time our earnest Secretary of Education speaks of late, he seems to unearth new things that Washington can and should do to schools. Earlier this month, he promised the NAACP that the administration would see that NCLB reauthorization required turnaround schools to obtain parent and community input as well as lead an "honest, open discussion." Of course, Duncan is ardently pushing "state-led" national standards and watching his Department of Education flag 19 (!) states as impressive enough to merit being Race to the Top finalists. Earlier in the year he promised Congress a billion dollar bonus if they reauthorized NCLB ...


Just spent the past couple days with a top-shelf group of young researchers that I hosted in a partnership with my good friends at the Fordham Institute. Together, we held the first gathering of the Emerging Education Policy Scholars (EEPS), which brought to D.C. about two dozen young scholars and thinkers to discuss how research does and should impact ed policy. Visiting with the fellows was a pretty neat roster of policy mavens, ed journalists, and reformers that included USA Today's Greg Toppo, Bellwether's Andy Rotherham, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Ed Week's Deb Viadero, ace Hill staffer David ...


If you haven't yet read Heather Zavadsky's savvy 2009 Harvard Education Press book Bringing School Reform to Scale, it deserves a careful look. Zavadsky, who helped build out the Broad Prize methodology and spent several years elbow-deep in these districts, has penned a volume that offers up lessons from some of today's most admired systems. (Full disclosure: I've conflicts of interest all over the place here, as the book is part of my HEP series and I sit on the advisory board for the Broad Prize.) Zavadsky argues that, for all the headlines about Race to the Top, those districts ...


During the past week, my pals Checker Finn, Mike Petrilli, and Jay Greene have been sparring over the question of whether conservatives ought to embrace the Common Core standards. Petrilli and Finn have argued in a thoughtful National Review Online column that No Child Left Behind fueled an explosion of mediocre state standards, undermining accountability and reform. Greene has responded that there's good reason to believe that the Common Core won't deliver on its promises and that it will impose real costs. As usual, Joanne Jacobs and Alexander Russo have been all over this. For what it's worth, here's my ...


On Saturday, the Washington Post's Bill Turque reported that D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee used the district's IMPACT evaluation system to terminate 165 teachers based on performance and identified another 737 as "minimally effective," giving them one year to improve. The usual carping is already evident and the Washington Teachers Union is grieving the firings. But, once again, Rhee got it right. As jarring and painful as it may be for those used to the clubby routines of K-12, this is what transformational leadership looks like. And the WaPo editorial board once again got it right too, staunchly backing Rhee ...


Last week, National Governors Association Chair Joe Manchin (a Democrat from West Virginia) announced his "Complete to Compete" initiative, which will enlist "governors, higher education leaders, and other key groups in an effort to boost college completion and attainment rates with existing resources and without compromising the quality of our academic programs." I tend not to read too much into the endless strings of initiatives and programs launched by DC groups. And I don't want to suggest anyone should read too much into this one. That said, I really like the tone of the release they sent and am modestly ...


This week, over on the National Journal "education experts" blog, we're debating our earnest Secretary of Education's declaration to the NAACP last week that the administration wants a reauthorized NCLB (nee ESEA) to "require parent and community input" in turning around persistently low-performing schools. Joanne Jacobs has another quick take here. My two cents: Duncan's sentiment is a fine one. Community and parental involvement are enormously important. And low-performing schools often suffer from a paucity of both. Of course, it's not like others haven't tried to previously address this. I especially love Duncan's pledge that the feds will "require" parent ...


In the terrific new Education Next article "Invisible Ink in Teacher Contracts," teacher quality savants Emily Cohen and Kate Walsh instruct would-be reformers intent on boosting teacher quality not to fixate on contracts or nifty new data analysis techniques. Why? Because, they argue, the first order of business should be fixing state legislation that stifles creative efforts to adopt smarter practices when it comes to pay, evaluation, and dismissal. Cohen and Walsh explain, "Across the country, many cash-strapped districts fretting over likely layoffs are eyeing seniority rules as they hammer out new contracts. To the surprise of some district superintendents, ...


Congressional Quarterly reported yesterday that House Democratic leaders will accept the Senate's plan to pass a stripped-down supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and seek another way to funnel $10 billion in edu-aid to the states. Before turning the page on the Obey-Obama defense supplemental imbroglio, however, a postmortem is in order--especially given some worrisome portents for the administration's school reform agenda. Last week, POLITICO's David Rogers examined just how D.C. Democrats got so far off the rails in the push for the teacher jobs bill. In a story tellingly headlined "The Dems' Education Debacle," ...


Last week, I was grumbling about the potentially unhealthy influence of edu-agitprop and the inclination of many would-be reformers to approach education reform as a simple, and simple-minded, moral crusade. I'll start the new week on a happier note, as a trio of straight-shooting reformers--all of them comfortable with messy truths - have penned an unvarnished, eye-opening account of what it means to struggle to transform K-12 schooling. In Ohio's Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the Frontlines, Fordham Institute chief Checker Finn, Fordham VP for Ohio Terry Ryan, and veteran scribe Mike Lafferty recount the Fordham Institute's efforts to, in ...


My posts this week on Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, and their kin have resulted in a pretty impressive wave of e-mail. Much of it is heated and some is downright ticked off. Indeed, it all reminds me why most folks find it advisable to avoid raising questions about popular enthusiasms or fads (whether site-based management, small high schools, or The World Is Flat) until after they fade of their own accord (at which point the questions are largely irrelevant). And all this even though I tried to make clear that I'm fine with these films and that they've got ...


On Monday, I argued that Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, and all their edu-agitprop brethren can have a constructive role to play so long as the practitioners evince good nature and humility and the cheerleaders retain a sense of irony and don't start to believe their own hype. Unfortunately, I think there's much evidence that good nature, humility, and a sense of irony are in short supply. And there's a lot of reason to believe that the edu-agitprop is (or is in the process of) slipping the leash. Anyone who has heard interviews with the minds behind these movies probably ...


The Washington Post's Nick Anderson offers a terrific and balanced round up on where the Gates Foundation's K-12 giving stands today. In an article that avoids being either a puff piece or a hatchet job, Anderson offers a good, straightforward analysis of what the foundation is up to. He comes at it with an even-handed assessment while also providing an appropriately skeptical quote from my friend Tom Loveless, quotes Gates himself saying, "There's a risk that we might not succeed," and has the inevitable Diane Ravitch blast. Probably not groundbreaking stuff for policy wonks who follow it closely, but a ...


In a great piece of news, Debra Viadero broke the story yesterday that the Obama administration has finally named a nominee for the vacant post of Commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics. After six months of stutter-stepping since first privately indicating that NYU professor Jack Buckley was its guy, the administration finally went public. It's about time, too, after putting him through the crushing paperwork and background checks that we now require of even the most minor presidential appointee. Indeed, Buckley's nomination was tied up for months by picayune questions related to this stuff. The announcement itself is ...


Epstein: "We don't do propaganda. Our enemies disseminate propaganda. We provide information." Spenser: "It's good to be us." -exchange from Robert Parker's Rough Weather. In the last two or three months, I think I've been invited to a dozen or more screenings of The Lottery, Waiting for Superman, and their kin. As I've been a hard-core enthusiast of charter schooling, accountability, merit pay, and such since before it was cool, I like the story these movies tell. I'm well aware that public debates are argued via public messages, meaning there is an important place for emotional appeals. And, since the ...


Getting away can offer perspective. Having just spent the better part of a month immersed in business abroad, I was following affairs back here mostly via notes, asides, and statements that sloshed into my Inbox. So it's shocking to "Straight Up" readers, I'm sure, that seen in that light, Rep. David Obey's "Keep Our Educators Working Act" didn't look great from six thousand miles. When I left in early June, hardly anyone on the left was breaking ranks to voice concerns about the proposed teacher bailout (then Sen. Harkin's brainchild). However, Obey's "let's gut the administration's reform kitty" ploy put ...


A few weeks ago, the Washington Teachers Union and hard-charging D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Michelle Rhee agreed to a dramatic new contract that was celebrated by reformers for giving the district much more freedom to reward effective teachers and dismiss ineffective ones. Attracting particular notice was the provision stipulating that a teacher fired for poor performance can protest only the review process itself--not the judgment. In a New York Post op-ed, Rhee explained that this means, "The end of tenure as a 'job for life.' If a teacher is rated as 'ineffective,' she is immediately terminated ...


Today, I want to just offer a few more thoughts spurred by time in Georgia. First, the movers and shakers are young. Key ministry personnel are seemingly all twenty- and thirty-somethings. As one observer commented to me, "Anyone over fifty has a hard time keeping up, just because of the cultural shift from the Soviets. Everyone in power is young." More interesting is the degree to which they voice views that would be anathema in U.S. educational circles. Respected, highly influential, former ministry officials who are now at Tbilisi's major university routinely discuss the advantages of a free market ...


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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