Tag: New Jersey

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Read: Jean Beliveau Edition

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While your editor makes a rare indulgence into his  fascination with all things hockey (and joins others in wishing a legendary rink rat a speedy recovery), read what’s going on…

Not the way to treat a Ranger. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

While your editor makes a rare indulgence into his  fascination with all things hockey (and joins others in wishing a legendary rink rat a speedy recovery), read what’s going on in the dropout nation:

  1. While Race to the Top has captured the headlines everywhere, it is especially becoming a point of discussion in the city of Blue Suede Shoes, where at least eight schools will likely be seized from the control of Memphis Public Schools and put into turnaround. Tennessee State Sen. Reginald Tates provides some insight on how the city’s school district (and its children) will benefit from this effort in the Tri-State Defender.
  2. Meanwhile there is more going on in Memphis, from battles over school funding to questions as to whether the school district will be allowed to form its own police force. All this, along with the Gates-funded teacher quality effort under way, may make Memphis an interesting place to watch among school reformers.
  3. At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s black studies blog, Professor Howard Ramsby writes about the need to mold young black men into strong, learned role models. Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that parents have to often find themselves disliking their parents (in that selfish-child-way) as part of the process of becoming a moral adult who can stand on his own two feet.
  4. The headshaker of the week appeared earlier this month, but it’s still a headshaker: Some Harvard ed school grads wrote an “open letter” to its administrators. They are demanding that the ed school speak out “against the unprecedented attack on public education.” What, dare say, is this attack? Start with “the over-testing of students” to their contention that performance pay plans “deny and undermine the essentially collaborative nature of teaching.” As if teachers spend all that much time teaching joint classes with their colleagues. Sure, I understand what they mean by this. But honestly, the current system of rewarding all teachers, regardless of the quality of their work, with tenure and raises based on little more than seniority and number of degrees awarded does little to improve the quality of education for the children in their care. Dear letter-writers: The grade for this letter is an “incomplete.” Try again.
  5. Another headshaker: This time, it’s a Web site: Stop Homework. No comment.
  6. In his Centraljersey.com piece, Hank Kalet makes clear that he is apparently afraid that new New Jersey education chief Brett Schundler will make his advocacy for school vouchers a centerpiece of his reform. Given the low quality of so many of the Garden State’s urban and suburban districts, are vouchers and charters still such an anathema?
  7. Yes, according to a recent poll by Quinnipac University’s pollsters. Given that New Jersey is that rare instance of a mostly-suburban state with powerful unions and parents loyal to traditional public school districts, this isn’t so surprising.
  8. In South Carolina, a state where arguments over the state’s abysmal graduation rate is just beginning to reach the levels seen in Indiana four years ago, a school choice supporter is entering the race for the education superintendent’s post, according to WACH-TV. Meanwhile Palmetto State school districts are still struggling to make Adequate Yearly Progress, reports the Sun News.
  9. In Maryland, the state schools superintendent wants to actually subject teachers to performance management, according to WBAL-TV. By using student test scores no less. And, by the way, wants to make probationary teachers wait four years before gaining tenure. Sure, not all that radical compared to what Jason Kamras and Michelle Rhee are trying to do in D.C. But this is Maryland, not exactly friendly territory for school reform.
  10. Speaking of Kamras: Yesterday’s video report has garnered some strong responses. Feel free to read and join in.
  11. Meanwhile, in New York, the state education department has named 34 New York City schools that should either be overhauled, shut down or doe-see-doed, according to Gotham Schools. Joel Klein and company already has most of that handled. Of course.
  12. When she was Indiana’s state schools superintendent, Suellen Reed was, well, underwhelming. Or as I put it back in 2004, she needed to hand in her walking papers. So Reed must be a tad saddened that her successor, Tony Bennett, seems to have gotten more done in less than one year in office that she did in 16.

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Making Families Consumers — and Kings — in Education

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Parent power can’t merely be empty words.

Wall Street Journal's Top 25 Companies of the Decade

Choice is no panacea. But as seen in the consumer products market, choice can help spur innovation. Let's try this in education.

If Calif. State Sen. Gloria Romero succeeds in allowing  parents in the state to to replace administrators and teachers at their schools (or convert the schools into charters), it will be an amazing step. Same is true if discussions in New Jersey about expanding its inter-district choice program come to pass. And the  federal Race to the Top initiative could provide even more options to parents — especially those stuck with sending their children to the worst urban school systems.

At the same time, these events offer an opportunity to consider what education policy — and America’s education system itself — should look like in the next half-century. And the answer is: Similar to the markets for consumer products everyone enjoys.

Few sectors in the American public or private sector are as dominated by experts, technocrats and lobbyists as education. From the development and approval of curricula to the kind of schools children can attend, the decisions are based, much consideration is given to what some adults want, how some adults want to be paid, national economic and social priorities, and occasionally, what children actually need. Every now and then, what children and their parents want does come into play. But this a rare event.

But imagine if children (and to be honest, their parents) actually could choose the kind of schools they want to attend, select the curricula that they will learn, even whether they will attend a neighborhood school or a manicured campus in suburbia? It would be difficult to figure out the direction of education at that point; after all, parents use schools as much for social-climbing and instilling their own values as they do for providing the most-rigorous education possible for their children. But it would be interesting: Perhaps “education villages” — where hipsters-turned-parents and single mothers can stay in the city and still gain the best of suburbia — would spring up in the heart of Atlanta. Or children otherwise deemed troublemakers in the traditional public school settings of today will learn in classes where the instructional day is compacted for more efficiency (and thus, less time for having to sit in class wasting time as likely to happen for students in Chicago).

These thoughts come as the Wall Street Journal presents its chart on the 25 largest companies in the world at the end of this decade. As pointed out by William Easterly (who spends his time criticizing foreign aid), only eight of the top 25 companies at the end of the 1990s kept their places by the near-end of 2009. Only six tech firms made up the top 25 versus 13 at the end of the 1990s; the tech firms on the list range from old-school software crossing into videogames and consumer wares (Microsoft) to handy cloud computing and search (Google), to a company that managed to switch gears and helped complete the personal technology revolution began by the Sony Walkman (Apple Computer).

Certainly, many of the companies knocked off the list had merged into other companies or went bust altogether; others just seen declines or stagnation in their market value. But mergers and market value losses represent a reality that these companies didn’t cater to their consumer markets. Notes Easterly: “Creative destruction is one of the triumphs of the market. The consumer is king: in 2009… The radical uncertainty of how to please consumers is an argument FOR free markets.”

At this moment, American public education is undergoing its own peculiar form of creative destruction, as education reformers and a smattering of parents — armed with data, research and political power — are forcing defenders of the status quo (teachers unions, schools of education, and school districts) to accept the need for effective change. As Fordham’s Checker Finn points out, reformers are slowly being forced to admit that their longstanding conceits also need updating (and more often than not, ditching altogether).

Yet, as I’ve pointed out over and over, the reformers must also rid themselves of their faith in expertise. They must begin to embrace the grassroots and, more importantly, accept that children and their parents must have more than just a seat at the table of decisionmaking. They must be the decisionmakers, period, and anything less just won’t do.Why? Because the nature of the reforms being proposed, promoted and legislated — all of which  involves choice, consequences and accountability — requires active participation from parents, and therefore, their support.

Choice begats choice; this is true when it comes to cellphone plans and this is also happening in education. The advent of Milwaukee’s school voucher plan in the early 1990s didn’t foster widespread development of vouchers. But the program, along with the charter school movement, has spurred the interest among parents in the kind of choice initiatives being considered in these states (and may likely become reality in the Los Angeles Unified School District). Once parents are exposed to having real power and engagement in school decisionmaking, they will not want the traditional expert-driven approach. This is a good thing.

Now, I’m not advocating for an education system that is fully free market in orientation. The reality is that the underlying infrastructure for such choice — easy access to useful information through guides, organizations or Web sites; actual mechanisms for exercising choice that exist outside of home purchases — is only coming into existence. Parents are just beginning to realize that the old concept of education — that the school can educate every child without active engagement of families that goes beyond homework and field trips — has gone by the wayside; they will make mistakes along the way.

Poor parents, in particular, need guidance; yet the current public education system treats them as even bigger nuisances than the middle-class families (who can exercise enough influence to just be merely ignored) and wealthier households (who ditch the public school system altogether). Assuring equality of opportunity in education, no matter one’s income, should not only be of paramount importance, it would be a more-effective form of economic policy than stimulus plans and tax cuts combined; the evidence largely clear that dropouts cannot be contributors to economic and social life.

But giving parents power, choices, options, advice and information should be the governing credo of education reform for the next half-century. It can be done.

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