I’m catching up after two weeks in Hawaii. Although I had my computer with me, I stayed down in the alpha zone and intentionally avoided the blogosphere and dogging education policy. My youngest son, who has been teaching on the Big Island for two years now, returned to school for four days of professional development last week, and another son who teaches back here in Massachusetts was traveling with us so some discussion of education issues was not entirely avoidable. In any event much has happened in the last few weeks.
The most significant event by far was the announcement on July 24th of the draft guidelines for the application for the s0-called “Race to the Top” funds (see Education Department Announces “Race to the Top” Guidelines below). Many members of Congress have expressed concern that our new secretary of education has unprecedented control over the distribution of over $4 billion to promote a reform agenda that was essentially developed off line. The announcement for public comment was entered into the Federal Register (35 pages) and offered in a more readable executive summary on the Department of Education’s Race to the Top website. Arne Duncan has characterized this as Education Reform’s Moon Shot in an op ed piece in the Washington Post. He indicates that the program, “… marks a new federal partnership in education reform with states, districts and unions to accelerate change and boost achievement.” This is all well and good, but at least in my mind there is a cautionary note. While the Secretary and the President speak frequently of collaboration and admittedly this is a breath of fresh air to the education community, they are not unwilling to use the velvet hammer in this “competition” for funds which is not without pre-conditions. Read more
Thousands of NEA delegates left San Diego heading home earlier this week after what had to have been a stimulating and provocative experience. Secretary Duncan’s Town Meeting with the delegates I would imagine was a highlight. I read his speech and listened to much of the dialogue. He certainly is good at what he does. He confronted tough issues head on in a forum that represents a broad range of viewpoints on hot button issues such as pay for performance, teacher tenure, standardized testing and charter schools. If you were in the room I’d be curious to hear your reaction.
After the last two occupants of his position in the previous administration (one of whom referred to the NEA as a “terrorist organization”) we have good reason to be cautious, even reticent, that this new secretary can unravel all the harm wrought by the current law. Duncan’s focus in the short term is on the 5000 worst of America’s schools, 2000 of which, it has been noted, produce 50% of all of America’s dropouts. It is hard for anyone to argue that this is not an appropriate area of concern. And if nothing else, NCLB has sharpened the focus on sorting out the lowest performing schools. As my mother, and I’m sure yours as well, so frequently admonished us, it’s not so much what you say as what you do.
Over the last eight years it seemed that the Bush administration felt that we knew what to do to close the so-called achievement gap, but that we were somehow holding back our best efforts to actually do it. The fact is that with a few exceptions here and there we haven’t yet figured out what to do on a large enough scale to reverse the inexorable impact that poverty and social class has on our ability raise achievement to the extent necessary in America’s lowest performing schools. The Bush administration and a “broad bipartisan consensus” in Congress 7 years ago held a metaphoric gun to our heads and simply said “Just do it!” Read more
Education Secretary Arne Duncan address the 2009 NEA Representative Assembly.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed more than 7,000 educators as part of a town hall exchange today at the NEA RA.
“I know we won’t all agree on everything, but I’m confident there will be more we agree with than not,” Duncan said. Schools must be the hub of communities, the federal government must increase the number of national certified teachers, and “a union of educators is a positive force that can drive the kind of change that many of our schools need.”
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel noted that he recently visited schools in Connecticut and New York where he saw what change is possible when there is a strong collaborative relationship among the teachers’ association, the school district and community partners.
“The best way to achieve results is for local unions and other partners to collaborate locally, while thinking globally about what students need to succeed,” Van Roekel said. “I believe that most teachers do an outstanding job, but that shouldn’t stop us from working together to find out what works best.”
NEA members, including Greenwich Education Association member Rae Baczek (2nd row, third from right), greet Secretary Duncan.
Earlier this week Secretary Duncan spoke at the national Alliance for Public Charter Schools Conference. He painted a bleak picture of the 5000 lowest performing schools in the country describing them as, ” often unsafe, underfunded, poorly run, crumbling, and challenged in so many ways that the situation can feel hopeless.” He went on to indicate that few districts in the nation have taken on the challenge of turning these schools around. He has a definite bias for a turnaround approach which usually entails closing a school and reopening it with new leadership, a new staff, and a new vision. Duncan closed 60 schools in Chicago. Of the sixty he reopened approximately a dozen schools some run by the district others under non-profit partners, but all – as he is careful to point out – use union teachers.
His message to the charter audience was to pose a challenge to them. While he acknowledged that there have been some great successes with charters, there is too often a lack of accountability making the quality uneven. He pointed to the CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes) report which I mentioned in my last post and characterized it as a wake up call to the charter school movement.
The charter school movement is putting itself at risk by allowing too many second-rate and third rate schools to exist. Your goal should be quality, not quantity. Charter authorizers need to do a better job holding schools accountable – and the charter schools need to support them – loudly and sincerely. Read more
On June 11 Connecticut became the 31st state to have its application for federal stimulus funds approved by the Federal department of Education. The quid pro quo for receiving these monies is the agreement by each state to four assurances:
- Adopting rigorous standards that prepare students for success in college and the workforce;
- Recruiting and retaining effective teachers, especially in classrooms where they’re needed most;
- Turning around low-performing schools; and
- Building data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness
These assurances have become the framework for the Obama administration’s vision for school reform as best we can tell. On June 8 Secretary Duncan delivered the first of four speeches intended to put a little flesh on the bones of these “assurances” when he addressed the Annual Conference of the Institute for Education Sciences – the research arm of the department established under the Bush administration. The focus of his remarks was the building of better data systems following students from cradle to college and teachers from college to their classrooms to “track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.” He reminded this audience of researchers of the paradox that plagues so much of the current policy debate in education that of competing research conclusions often based on the same data.
For every study showing the benefits of the policy, there’s another one with a different conclusion. Quite often people draw different conclusions from the same study and that’s where we need to separate ideology from analysis. Read more
This week President Obama proposed closing and reopening 1000 failing schools per year for the next five years. Where did this come from! Officially the notion was floated by Secretary Duncan while making opening remarks to an audience at the Brookings Institute in Washington this past Monday. But why now?
Is it puzzling that just as the secretary embarks on a “national listening tour” to seek the opinions of educators and parents regarding the impact of NCLB , we hear of yet another five year plan to deal with failing schools? Perhaps the timing of this may have something to do with an article published in the New Yorker last week – The Instigator: A crusader’s plan to remake failing schools – a profile of Steve Barr, the founder of Green Dot Public Schools, California’s largest non-profit charter school operator. Read more