The other day Eduwonk praised the UFT in New York for considering opening a charter school. The New York Post vehemently disagrees. They argue that –at best– the school would be a Potemkin village and at worst would be inappropriately construed by the media as validating current teacher contracts in New York (which most observers agree hamper educational improvement efforts).
The Post has a point. There are far too many Potemkin villages scattered around American education that reporters and other interested parties are helpfully steered to when they want to learn more about a particular issue. And, in this business, too often the plural of anecdote becomes data so perceptions are shaped by outliers rather than the aggregate picture. And, the Post is right that the UFT has an obvious agenda here, namely showing that the teacher contract is not a problem.
But…so what? A big part of charter schooling is creating room for various publicly accountable innovations that parents are free to choose or reject. If the UFT can create a good charter school, all the better. If they cannot, well, then that is pretty telling too. And if the media cannot be trusted to sift through self-serving press releases and tell the story accurately and fairly then that is not an indictment of the UFT but rather of the Post and its colleagues.
The current teachers’ union approach to charter schools is not tenable and threatens to further erode support for public education. Intellectuals inside the unions recognize this. Yet change won’t come overnight and charter supporters should not be so ideologically rigid as to reject any progress, however slow and incremental, because it is not wholesale change. Doing so will only make change that much slower.
New charter school data from Massachusetts shows that six in ten urban charter schools there outpaced comparable schools in their communities. Results statewide were more mixed. Again this looks like an issue of authorizing and quality rather than a blight on the charter idea itself. As Checker Finn told the Globe,
“To hang a sign of ‘charter’ out is a guarantee of nothing in particular when it comes to educational performance”
That’s about right. The charter community has to be as relentless about quality as about supporting charter schools.
UFT president Randi Weingarten has proposed a step toward differential pay in Gotham. She wants across the board raises for all teachers but also extra differentials for teachers working in the 200 lowest performing schools in the city. Amazingly, such common sense differential pay schemes are still derided as plots to undermine teachers’ unions in many circles. Though there is still more rhetoric than action in terms of modernizing how teachers are paid, there are hopeful signs of progress.
Afterthought: Yes, you read this item right, salaries that are responsive to market conditions are still considered a radical idea in education. It’s just too early in the week to be cynical about it!
In The New York Times Diana Jean Schemo takes a long look at the Denver pay-for-performance experiment that is well worth reading (she also notes that Senator Kerry has now proposed national funds to support similar innovations elsewhere so there are national implications). The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman looks at Virginia’s new graduation requirements which have real consequences for students this year. Both are important changes worth watching but considering them together, figuring out how to increase accountability for adults working in schools does seem every bit — if not more — important than accountability for the students. Eduwonk’s not sure that individual pay-for-performance is the way to go, but it’s sure worth innovating to find out.
The Broad Urban Superintendents Academy, a rigorous, ten-month executive management program for aspiring school system leaders, seeks high-achieving and dynamic executives from the corporate, nonprofit, government, military and education sectors who want to help improve urban education by serving as the chief executive officer in a large urban school system. Application deadlines are August 16th and September 13th 2004. Click here to submit a nomination or to download an application.
Education writer Alexander Russo just started a weekly email blast about goings on in education policy. It’s got a Chicago focus because, well, that’s where he lives. But it’s a quick concise way to catch up on anything you may have missed. If you want in on it email him at AlexanderRusso@aol.com.
This article in Blueprint explains why No Child Left Behind (NCLB) matters and why the left and center-left must make sure that it works. It also explains how President Bush failed to follow through on the law and the key implementation mistakes the Administration has made. However, the article also makes clear that large general interest reforms like NCLB are always a political and policy challenge.
Politically, as the article shows, in the presidential race education is a values issue rather than one that turns on specific policies. The particulars of the debate will matter much more to policy types than to average voters. Yet the overall contours of this debate will play a real role in the general perceptions voters have of the two candidates.
The emerging charter district plan in Buffalo is on shaky ground. Four newly elected school board members are opposed to charter schools leaving only a slim majority in favor. The Buffalo Teachers Federation heavily backed the four in an effort to undo the initiative.
Meanwhile in New York City the United Federation of Teachers is exploring the possibility of opening its own charter school, which is, needless to say, a great idea. In the New York Post, New York Charter Schools Association executive director Bill Phillips applauds the potential UFT move and makes the case for raising New York’s current cap on public charter schools.
Bonus charter school content! Adrian Walker makes the case for public charter schools in the Boston Globe. Discussing the proposed moratorium on charters in Massachusetts (which the governor has said he will veto) Walker writes:
It is not coincidental that much of the support for the moratorium comes from suburban lawmakers, many of whose constituents regard charter schools as a frill. Meanwhile, among city parents and low-income parents, they only seem to become more popular.
By golly he’s onto something…perhaps this is why self proclaimed “progressives” too often end up sounding like reactionaries.
If you want to read the newspaper stories about Kerry’s teacher quality proposals (and you should!) we’d recommend you read them in this order: Ron Brownstein and Maria L. LaGanga in the Los Angeles Times, then The New York Times, and finally The Washington Post only if you’re curious about how a major paper misses a big story. The first two stories — particularly Brownstein-LaGanga which is a must read — lay out both the policy importance and the significance of Kerry’s policy announcements yesterday.
If you’re too busy to read, here’s the gist: Kerry’s teacher plan is gutsy, full of important policy ideas, and easily the most interesting education proposal so far during the 2004 campaign. It includes proposals for differential pay, performance-based pay, mentoring for new teachers, more attention to low-performing schools, higher standards for new teachers, more accountability for schools of education, and faster dismissal for low-performing teachers. It sets a high bar for President Bush and hopefully portends an interesting debate to come. Although, if their reaction to the proposal today is any indication, this one may have caught the Bush-Cheney team flat-footed.
Addressing the teacher quality challenge is a big part of making No Child Left Behind work and Kerry’s opening bid about how to do so is a strong one. But you should still read the Brownstein article anyway, it’s that good. Must be that late LA deadline!
Afterthought: Maybe it’s not the deadline….in addition to being a great political reporter, Brownstein really understands the education stories. Richard Colvin must be smiling!
Bonus Afterthought: Kerry offers incentives to help get National Board Certified teachers to teach in hard-to-serve schools. It’s a good and long overdue idea.
The Joyce Foundation, Education Trust, and SEED School all have interesting education policy jobs open though the Joyce one is pretty senior. Please do not email Eduwonk about these. You can find all of these organizations on the web or linked on the left and Eduwonk assures you that if you can’t locate them and learn more yourself, you won’t make it long at any of them anyway…
Today’s Washington Post writes up what has been a simmering backroom dispute for months. Washington’s new federally funded voucher program is causing heartburn for the city’s Catholic schools because it does not provide sufficient funding to cover their costs. The reason is that the voucher program provides parents grants only for tuition. But in Catholic schools tuition is lower than total costs. The Archdiocese of Washington subsidizes tuition as archdioceses in other cities do as well.
Although Eduwonk is skeptical of the whole program (click here to learn why) the Catholic schools do have a valid point here. But — and this is the important backstory here — these issues were raised while the program was being designed. But Republican congressional staffers and the Bush Administration were so wed to the myth and rhetoric that Catholic schools only cost a few thousand a year per student that they ignored the problem. It’s the same blind adherence to ideology over deliberate policymaking that causes even reasonable observers to question the efficacy of the whole enterprise.