I’m Disappointed They Didn’t Call It “I’m Rick Hess, B*tch”

Rick Hess has a new blog on the Ed Week website, and given the number of hallowed education reform agendas, groups, and concepts (including some I’m aligned with!) he smacks down for “lazy thinking, willful naiveté, and a refusal to make tough choices” in his very first post, I’m guessing it’s gonna be a fun, provocative read going forward.

But I’m still bummed they didn’t let him call it “I’m Rick Hess, B*tch.”

–Sara Mead

Helping Haiti II

Per this, obviously the primary and secondary education systems in Haiti were also devastated by the earthquake. Huffington Post reports that Paul Vallas, who lead the reconstruction of New Orleans’ schools post-Hurrican Katrina, has been enlisted to help rebuild Haiti’s schools, too. If folks have additional information about this or other efforts to provide educational opportunities for children in Haiti or rebuild their education system post-earthquake, please e-mail me at [my first name]ATbellwethereducation.org.

–by Sara Mead

Increasing Head Start and Child Care Funding

My former colleague Lisa Guernsey has an informative post up on her blog about the Obama administration’s 2011 Head Start funding request. Head Start received an additional $1 billion a year for 2009 and 2010 in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Obama administration’s FY2011 budget request includes increased Head Start funding to sustain these investments–a contrast from the “cliff” facing states and districts next year at the K-12 level when stimulus funds run out.

ARRA investments in Head Start and federal child care programs, which the administration is also seeking FY2011 funding to sustain even after the stimulus runs out, haven’t gotten a lot of attention in education policy circles–But they should! If Congress funds these programs at the requested levels next year, this will actually mean an big percentage increase in annual federal early care and education spending, and an absolute increase more than twice as large as funding that would be provided under the proposed Early Learning Challenge Grant program (a part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act currently stuck in the Senate), which has gotten more attention. The long-term impacts of these increases will, of course, depend on the quality of programs they fund.

The administration isn’t just seeking increased Head Start funding, it’s also moving forward (albeit slowly) with reforms required under the 2007 Head Start reauthorization to improve Head Start quality and outcomes. It’s too early yet to say whether these efforts will amount to anything, though. Lisa’s been doing a great job covering Head Start, including the ARRA funding and administration reform efforts, so if you’re at all interested in these issues–and you should be!–I recommend following her blog.

–Sara Mead

Hot Tub Time Machine

Solo_Skidz_smallerHuh. Someone still thinks that a greater federal role in funding education + vouchers is the kind of awesome, grand compromise-type idea that both Democrats and Republicans can get behind. Never mind that it (like Skidz pants–pictured, right–and Nu-Metal) was never a good idea, even in the 1990s, when it was cool.

–Sara Mead

Sen. Bayh

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza reports that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh is retiring. In recent years, Bayh has draw a lot of ire and criticism from progressives and other Democrats, and I can’t claim to understand some of his actions. But Bayh does deserve real credit for the political courage he showed, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman, in championing educational accountability, public school choice, and the “Three R’s” bill that eventually provided the template for much of the best things that were in NCLB. Bayh’s and Lieberman’s actions a decade ago helped pave the way for what has become a robust, exciting, and fundamentally progressive Democratic school reform movement today.

–Sara Mead

I Will Avoid Putting a Silly Headline Here About Messing with Texas

Lots of folks commenting on this weekend’s NYT Magazine story on the efforts of a conservative faction of the Texas State Board of Education to insert conservative religious perspectives into Texas’ (and, by extension, the nation’s) school books.

My initial thought on seeing this piece was that the Washington Monthly‘s Mariah Blake got there first, but in fact Blake’s article and Russle Shorto’s NYT piece are nice complements and both worth reading. Blake offers a vivid view of the state of play in Texas, and Shorto’s piece nests that story in the national and historical context of the efforts of Christian conservatives to insert in school curricula and academic standards the idea that the U.S. was founded as “a Christian nation.”

I tend to agree with Tom Vander Ark that some of the issues specific to the Texas Board of Ed’s ability to dictate the content of the nation’s textbooks through its textbook adoption process will eventually be rendered obsolete by evolutions in digital learning and print-on-demand–which will also be good things more generally for the quality of instructional materials in schools, not to mention children’s backs as they’ll have fewer ginormous textbooks to lug around.

One thing this article got me wondering about, though, was whether it really makes sense to elect State Boards of Education, as Texas, 10 other states, and D.C. do (the rest have appointed boards, except for Wisconsin and Minnesota, which have none at all). There’s an argument that electing boards of education–whether at the local or state level–increases democratic control over the schools and public accountability. I’m not so sure.

Although it varies by state, Americans tend to elect a whole bunch of public officials, including a lot of officials in relatively obscure roles (ANC Commissioners in D.C.? Township Clerks in Michigan, where I grew up?) that aren’t well understood by the public. Most voters, who have limited time and energy to devote to these issues, can’t possibly follow the performance and positions of all these officials. Having more of them be appointed by mayors, governors, and other public officials who are better known to voters may actually increase accountability. Not that it would necessarily make any difference in Texas, but these kinds of institutional arrangements do matter and deserve to be questioned from time to time.

Sara Mead

Helping Haiti

Very sad NYT article about the decimation of Haiti’s higher education system. Given the tremendous human suffering in Haiti right now, this may not seem like the most important problem. But the destruction of higher education institutions seriously undermines Haiti’s ability to build the human capital it will desperately need to get on its feet in the coming decades. As some commentators have noted, allowing more Haitians to immigrate to the United States would be one under-acknowledged humanitarian response to the devastation there (the Department of Homeland Security has already offered Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants in the United States). Creating opportunities for qualified Haitian students to pursue higher education in the U.S. also seems like a reasonable humanitarian response.

–Sara Mead

Bobb-ing for Change in Detroit

This Sunday’s Detroit Free Press includes a long and worth-reading profile of Robert Bobb, who as Emergency Financial Director for the Detroit Public Schools is taking on the challenge of trying to improve Detroit’s woefully dysfunctional public school system. As the article notes, Bobb was brought in to put DPS’s screwed up finances–Bobb’s team identified a $306 million deficit–in order, but he’s also working to improve the abysmal achievement of the district’s students.

And that’s very much needed. On the 2009 NAEP TUDA assessment, in which Detroit participated for the first time, the Motor City came in dead last among 18 participating large urban districts, with only 3% of the district’s 4th graders reading at the proficient level, and 69% reading at the lowest level–below basic.

I grew up about an hour outside of Detroit, and the city–and its schools–have been regarded as a basket case for longer than I can remember. To me, one of the greatest reflections of this was a philanthropist’s donation, a few years back, not to build buildings but to tear down vacant properties near schools. Detroit has a lot of problems that extend beyond its school system and will require economic development, better governance, and other changes in addition to education reform to fix. But it’s pretty much impossible to imagine the city ever recovering significantly without a much better functioning school system.

D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee get’s a lot of press, but it’s also noteworthy that the District of Columbia has produced education reformers who, after clashing with Rhee on some issues, have gone on to drive significant change elsewhere: Bobb, who previously served as D.C. City Administrator, Deputy Mayor, and Board of Education Chair, and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deb Gist, who was previously D.C.’s State Superintendent of Education.

–guest blogger Sara Mead