Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Catching up on the education beat

More Duncan charm, reported here by WP's Valerie Strauss
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and at least one other Education Department official urged New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and his team not to choose Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr as the city’s next schools chancellor, according to several people knowledgable about the selection process. It was an unusual move by the nation’s top education official and came in the wake of Starr’s vocal criticism of some of the Obama administration’s school reform policies.

Teach for America appears to be growing more controversial in the Ivy League (see here, here and here for starters).

Are a professor's emails part of the public record?

Another (apparent) billionaire enters the fray:
Financier Rex Sinquefield, Missouri’s largest political donor, has given $750,000 to jumpstart the initiative petition drive for a ballot measure to end teacher tenure.

According to the Missouri Ethics Commission, the money was donated on Christmas Eve to “Teachgreat.org,” the campaign committee set up to oversee the effort.

Some passages from a must-read Texas Observer piece on superstar superintendents:
And when you hire someone promising miracles, you pay them the miracle-worker rate. Klein earned $250,000 a year as New York Schools chancellor—just a fraction of the $2 million he makes as a “senior advisor” at News Corp. today. Barbara Byrd-Bennett was known in Cleveland as the “$300,000 wonder” by the end of her tenure running a 70,000-student district. In Texas, a handful of superintendents make more than $300,000 a year, including Spring Branch ISD’s Duncan Klussman, whose board bumped his pay to $305,000 earlier this year to run the fast-growing district of 35,000 students.
Rod Paige, Houston’s superintendent in the mid-1990s, was one of the first to sell the public on his ability to raise test scores even without more money. The former college football coach trumpeted huge test-score gains and better graduation rates thanks to his leadership and the pressure of high-stakes tests. On the strength of those results, Houston won the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2002, the award’s first year.

Paige’s “Houston Miracle” became George W. Bush’s “Texas Miracle” on the presidential campaign trail, and Paige parlayed his apparent success into an appointment as Bush’s education secretary. But after Paige left for D.C., academics picked apart his record, showing Houston had undercounted its dropouts and exempted low-scoring kids from taking the test, and even underreported crime and fighting in the schools. By then Paige was long gone, guiding national school policy.
Mayor Mike Rawlings, who promised in his campaign to support bold improvement in the schools, told the Morning News, “You already have some momentum for change and have a school board taking reform-minded actions, and the city and business community is supportive of this, and whoever comes in will have a lot of support. For that reason, and if it succeeds, you’re going to be a hero.” 
Rawlings, a former Pizza Hut CEO, said he was looking for a new superintendent who could be a “real change agent.  It’s less important to me if they’re a mathematician or a businessperson or a military type. Their background is less important than their leadership ability.” 
The business world’s interest in remaking public education is nothing new—calling school leaders “superintendents” became popular a century ago, when factory efficiency experts took a first pass at redesigning public schools.

America is enjoying another such moment today. Popular business literature is suffused with the idea that strong leadership has the power to improve even the most massive bureaucracy, and the education world has fallen in line. The George W. Bush Institute, the think tank tied to the presidential library at Southern Methodist University, is home to an “Alliance to Reform Education Leadership.” The Broad Superintendents Academy in Los Angeles is one of the most polarizing institutions of the current school-reform movement, grooming “exceptional leaders and managers to help transform America’s education systems, raise student achievement and create a brighter future,” according to its website.

“I think there’s been something of an infatuation with business management in education,” says Young, the University of Virginia scholar. “Schools are not businesses. We don’t necessarily have the same moral obligations to the community and to kids that you have to stakeholders that are investing their money.”

“The reason it works in business is you do have a bottom line,” Brewer says. “In order to do that in education, they had to find one indicator of success. That’s not necessarily compatible with the complexity of education.”

New superintendents who focused on “quick wins” in the “first 90 days”—that’s all straight out of popular business literature. So is the focus on transformational change, the faith that we’re capable of rapid improvement in society if only we’ll shake off the old ways and dismantle the status quo. No business concept has been more contentious in schools than the tech-inspired enthusiasm for “disruption.”

On a related note, Diane Ravitch recently had an interesting post about an executive turned educator.
Beth Goldberg is a Middle School Mathematics Teacher at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY in the Mid-Hudson Valley.  Beth has been teaching for eight years since obtaining her Masters of Arts in Teaching at Bard College.  Prior to earning her MAT, Beth was a senior executive at JP Morgan Chase where she had global responsibility for a suite a payment services products.  Beth holds an MS in business from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a BA in Mathematics from Wellesley College.
Not surprisingly, Goldberg has some interesting things to say about the problems with the reform movement's attempt to apply management consulting approaches to education:
After a twenty year career in business, I decided to become a mathematics teacher. I returned to school to obtain another master’s degree in adolescent education. I was convinced that my management expertise would be readily transferable to teaching. I had managed an international staff, how hard would it be to manage a classroom of thirty or less students? Needless to say, I quickly learned that teaching students was far more complicated than managing adults. Why, you may ask? There are three simple reasons that I would like to share with the business intelligentsia.

1. Your employees are paid to listen to you, your students are not.

2. In business, employees are selected based upon a search and interview process. Teachers do not select their students.

3. In business, an insubordinate employee is fired. An insubordinate student is merely one more challenge for a classroom teacher.

To judge the effectiveness of teachers based upon an annual high stakes test would be comparable to judging the effectiveness of a business leader based upon one meeting or one memo. A business leader may have an ineffective meeting because of a variety of reasons. Similarly, students’ test scores on a particulate day are influenced by a host factors including their home life and social interactions.

Today’s education policy appears to missing the mark. Vilifying all teachers will not rectify the problems which plague a subset of this country’s education system. The current ineffective policies have been developed by individuals who lack experience teaching and are removed from students.

Nonetheless I do recognize that there are certainly lessons from business which are applicable to education. Here are a few for the NYS Education Commissioner and his colleagues to consider:

1. Those who are closest to the customer should provide the necessary feedback and market information so that sound strategies can be formed. Using business terminology, teachers with years of experience working with students are your best source of market intelligence.

2. Any large scale implementation requires a detailed project plan. It must be effectively managed as demonstrated by adhering to published deadlines and commitments. Releasing thousands of pages of curriculum materials for teachers days before teachers need to use the information is unacceptable.

3. Communicate clearly and effectively to all your customers,  colleagues and staff. Listen to their concerns.

When I left the business arena to become a teacher, I naively had no  idea of the complexities and challenges faced by teachers each day. Teaching is one of the most rewarding and challenging endeavors I have undertaken. Even though the career is much more demanding and complicated than I anticipated, the satisfaction I receive from a job well done more than compensates me for the effort I invest in teaching my students. I hope that the numerous problems accompanying the education reforms now underway in New York and across the country will be acknowledged and appropriately addressed before the education system is bankrupt.

And any post on management consultants in the education reform movement has got to be followed by a David Coleman link.

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