Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: The rebirth of the education governor
E. Finn, Jr.
Photo courtesy of the National Governors Association
Thirty years ago, Saturn started its current revolution
around the Sun, Mt. St. Helens erupted, and Americans began to understand that
governors are the most important people in U.S. K-12 education. They control,
on average, about half of schools’ budgets. They propose, lobby, and ultimately
sign legislation that spans the spectrum from teacher evaluations and
collective bargaining to textbook adoption. Today, with bold gubernatorial
leadership on display once again, we do well to recall some of the pioneering
“education governors” of the 1980s, men and women who set about to reform their
states’ public schools—indeed, to overhaul their states’ entire K-12 system.
Most of them were considered political “moderates”—mind you,
that was neither a slur nor an endangered species in the ‘80s—and they
definitely came from both parties. Prominent among them were Dick Riley (D-SC),
Tom Kean (R-NJ), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jim Hunt (D-NC), John Engler (R-MI),
Bill Clinton (D-AR), Tommy Thompson (R-WI), Ann Richards (D-TX), and Rudy
Perpich (DFL-MN)—to name a few.
These leaders ushered in statewide academic standards, new
tests, the concept of results-based accountability, some fresh thinking about
teachers and principals, charter schools, and plenty more. Teamed up (in 1989)
with the first President Bush in Charlottesville, they also produced a set of
“national education goals” such as this land never had before, and they helped
to comprise a new panel in Washington to monitor the country’s progress toward
What charged them up at the time was the need for economic
development and competitiveness for their states, complaints from their
employers and universities about the unreadiness of local high school
graduates, and mounting costs, coupled with the frustration that education
consumed huge chunks of their budgets, yet they had relatively minimal control
over what those funds purchased. (They were also fired up by A Nation at Risk.) So they exerted
themselves as never before.
Their organizations and affiliates revved up, too. Most
notable was the National Governors Association (NGA), which had not
historically had a great deal to do with K-12 education but, beginning in 1986
with a five year Alexander-prompted project called “Time for Results,”
bestirred itself both to push for education reform across the states and to
monitor progress made by them.
With the 1990s came increased federal involvement in education
reform, as governors of that time helped to activate and animate the feds.
Though Bush 41 and Lamar Alexander (as his second secretary of education) didn’t
get much through the Democratic Congress, President Bill Clinton signed major
legislation in 1994 on which George W. Bush—Texas’s education-reform-minded
governor of the late 1990s—built when he reached the White House a few years
later. The result, of course, was No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
As Washington pushed harder, however, some governors backed
off. By and large, the first decade of this century was not a time of huge
gubernatorial initiative on the K-12 front. Reforming education seemed for a
while to be Uncle Sam’s job. (Massachusetts under Bill Weld and his successors
and Florida under Jeb Bush are notable exceptions.)
Today...a new crop of reform-minded governors is reclaiming its territory in an efflorescence of leadership and state-level initiatives.
Today, however, Saturn has completed a full revolution and a
new crop of reform-minded governors is reclaiming its territory in an
efflorescence of leadership and state-level initiatives. Some of this shift
back was triggered by discontent with NCLB and some was stimulated by Race to
the Top. Either way, many have perceived that the nation is still at risk—and
so are its states; that looking to Washington to solve problems is mostly
futile and sometimes damaging; and that, in the end, states bear primary
constitutional and financial responsibility for K-12 education. What’s more,
with states running out of money and education consuming so many billions,
eking greater bang from the available bucks is both irresistible and unavoidable.
The NGA is back in action, too, with the Common Core State
Standards Initiative (co-created with the CCSSO and a bunch of foundation
dollars). That happened before the 2010 election, which swept into office a
bunch of new governors who have set out to reform public education while
cutting its budget, something more or less unprecedented. They haven’t all been
Republicans (consider Phil Bredesen in Tennessee and Jack Markell in Delaware,
for example—both of their states round one winners of Race to the Top, also
before the 2010 election) but most are. Prominent among them are Mitch
Daniels (R-IN), John
Kasich (R-OH), Scott
Walker (R-WI) and Chris
Christie (R-NJ). This time, however, few of them would be described as
“moderates” and their states are awash in vivid partisan clashes.
That’s mostly due to budget cuts and related policy changes.
Austerity defines the era and the leadership and reform strategies of these
chief executives. Yes, they want to boost achievement and to foster more school
choices. Some of them murmur about governance changes and technology. But what
really seems to kindle their fires is saving money while rewriting the ground
rules by which teachers in their schools are employed, rewriting them in ways
that (a) economize in response to diminished revenues, (b) purge the ranks of
incompetents, (c) reward merit, (d) open up both the pathways by which new
teachers enter and those by which veteran teachers exit, and (e) weaken the
public sector unions that have been stalwart supporters of the status quo (and
of their political opponents).
Two of the “education governors” from the 80s and 90s
went on to become president; two others became secretary of education. Will
today’s crop of state leaders ascend to those heights? Time will tell. But we
already know this: Like Saturn, the governors are back. And if they are able to
implement their reform agendas, preferably without totally alienating their
teachers, America’s kids will be the better for it. So will our taxpayers and
News Analysis: Standards don't mean a thing without that curriculum swing
Photo by Katherine Johnson
In case you hadn’t heard, a group of 140 (and
rising) education leaders—including Fordham President Chester Finn and some
unlikely confederates (Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond, for
two)—have proposed the creation of voluntary common curricular materials.
Federalist eyebrows rise in unison because, inevitably, this sort of thing gets
dubbed a “national curriculum” even though there could be many of them and
they’d all be voluntary for states, districts, schools, and teachers to use as
they see fit. (In fact, our friends at Common Core have already produced a terrific specimen of such
materials for ELA.) As Finn told Catherine Gewertz of Education Week, providing quality curriculum materials that states,
schools, and teachers may choose to utilize, augment, or ignore shouldn’t rile
people up. The fact that too many of our nation’s students attend schools
teaching content-deficient curricula should. So should the fact that many
teachers have been pleading for sound curricular materials to accompany the
standards they’re charged with bringing to students.
|Click to listen to commentary on common curricula from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Call for Common Content: Core Curriculum Must Build a Bridge from Standards to
Achievement,” by The Albert Shanker
Institute, March 7, 2011.
Group Backs Common School Curriculum,” by Sam Dillon, The New York Times, March 7, 2011.
Curriculum: Great Goal or Bogeyman?,” by Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, March 7, 2011.
News Analysis: The newspaper that cried wolf
Times had its exposé on teacher performance; now USA Today has its own, this one analyzing high-stakes testing and
the “cheating scandals” that go with it. The analysis examined test-score data
in six states and found 1,610 schools with unusually large grade-level
performance gains from one year to the next (the analysis included anywhere
from three to seven years of data for each state). In some cases, these gains
disappeared as students moved to the next grade, implying that the sudden boost
was not only temporary but also probably fabricated. That’s disconcerting, for
sure, but the instances of potential cheating were exceedingly rare: As Chad
Aldeman points out, just 304 schools out of 22,039 were flagged in 2008-09, or less than 1.4
percent. By all means, states and districts should work at test security,
guard against cheating, and prosecute any bad actors. But this analysis hardly
indicates that standardized testing is forcing unethical behavior at large scale.
|Click to listen to commentary on the USA Today findings from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
test scores seem too good to believe,” by Greg Toppo, Denise Amos, Jack
Gillum, and Jodi Upton, USA Today,
March 6, 2011.
across the country show unreal gains on tests but stand by results,” by
Greg Toppo, Denise Amos, Jack Gillum, and Jodi Upton, Detroit Free Press, March 6, 2011.
News Analysis: Leaders no longer in limbo?
Once again, the Hechinger Report has dived into the waters of education-policy
reporting and emerged with a pearl. Its latest package of articles addresses
the need for—and dearth of—strong school and district leaders. (Gadfly has treaded
these waters in the recent past as well.) As Hechinger articulates, excellent leaders are essential in the
formation and maintenance of a positive and effective school environment.
According to a 2009 New Leaders for New Schools study, principals account for 25 percent of a
school’s impact on student gains. Yet we face a critical shortage of strong
leaders, despite the factory-like efficiency with which education schools pump
out certified (but unprepared) principals. As Hechinger reports, this break in the supply-demand curve requires a
rethink of how we prepare school leaders and where we recruit them from.
Luckily, with collective bargaining on the ropes in states across the country,
school and district leaders might finally have authority commensurate with
their responsibility. And, if nothing else, that should be very good for
recruiting better candidates.
School Leadership Matters,” by Staff, Hechinger
Report, March 3, 2011.
vs. demand: Rock-star superintendents,” by Justin Snider, Hechinger Report, March 3, 2011.
crisis: Issues of quality, not quantity?,” by Staff, Hechinger Report, March 3, 2011.
Review: A Smarter Teacher Layoff System: How Quality-Based Layoffs Can Help Schools Keep Great Teachers
Moving from quality-blind to quality-based layoffs is
integral to today’s education-reform agenda. Yet figuring out how best to pull
this off in a productive, teacher-friendly manner has been a whopping
challenge. Enter this New Teacher Project (TNTP) brief, which offers a novel
method for districts engaging in quality-based layoffs. Based on a survey of
9,000 teachers from two large, urban districts, TNTP presents a “scorecard” of
weighted factors that the organization (as well as the teachers it surveyed)
believes should be considered in layoff decisions. This scorecard includes
teacher performance ratings, classroom-management skills, attendance, and
support for extra-curricular activities—along with years with the district.
(Conspicuously lacking is credit for graduate credit hours and advanced
degrees: Only one-third of surveyed teachers supported including this factor in
layoff decisions.) TNTP’s brief offers a method for handling layoffs that is
both tangible enough to be implemented and flexible enough to be adapted for
district need. The one caveat: While the brief’s workable model for making
layoff decisions is an excellent first step, it does not go further to address
how teachers’ performance and classroom-management skills should be
judged—probably because their surveyed teachers counted principal opinion as
the least appropriate factor for making layoff decisions.
Review: The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers
Yesterday marked the release of findings from Part
I of MetLife’s twenty-seventh annual education survey, which focuses on what it
means to be “college- and career-ready.” In this poll of middle and high school
teachers, students, public-education parents, and executives of Fortune 100
companies, the organization investigates how stakeholder groups feel about the
college- and career-ready goal and what students need to do to reach it. Many
of the findings are interesting if unsurprising: Only 17 percent of teachers
give high priority to more school choice, compared to 43 percent of parents and
46 percent of executives. When asked about the need to graduate all students
college- and career-ready, 73 percent of parents said it needed to be done,
compared to only 43 percent of executives. Then puzzle over this: All groups of
surveyed adults find that “higher-order, cross-disciplinary skills”—such as
problem solving, self motivation, and relationship building—are more important
for college preparation than higher-level math and science content. (Executives
place greatest emphasis on the capacity for team work.) Yet, nearly 90 percent
of middle and high school teachers support implementation of the Common Core standards in math, ELA, and (when available) science—standards that largely
rejected the “twenty-first century skills” agenda. An interesting read, this
year’s MetLife survey further articulates the fogginess of “career- and
college-ready.” Part II of the survey, “Teaching
Diverse Learners,” is set to release March 23.
Review: Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation
Participation in arts education has declined steadily since
the 1980s—long before our current recession and before NCLB, according to this
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) report, and minority children have been
hit hardest: In 2008, only 26 percent of African American students reported
receiving any arts education (down from 51 percent in 1982); Hispanic
youngsters were at 28 percent (down from 47 percent in 1982). These figures
take on greater magnitude when linked to the growing body of research that
shows arts education as an effective pathway to deeper engagement and success
in school—and with higher levels of student achievement, positive social and
emotional development, and successful transition to adulthood. The most recent NAEP
arts assessment (which assessed eighth graders in 2008) adds more depth to
these findings. While the NAEP saw no differences in opportunities for arts
instruction among racial groups, it did find that only 57 percent of schools
offered music instruction three times a week, and 47 percent offered visual
arts instruction with the same frequency. Neither methodology is perfect (the
NEA uses a retrospective student survey and the NAEP only gathered data on
school offerings—not on student participation). But both remind us of one key
point: Especially in our era of austerity and testing, arts education is at
risk and needs protecting.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Mike throws rock, Rick throws paper
Mike and Rick get a verbal boxing workout as
they discuss a potential national curriculum. To cool down, they talk about
cheating teachers and the de-earmarked TFA. Amber explains the findings from
Fordham’s most recent study—Yearning to
Break Free—and Chris goes after the fine art of RIFing.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Hey schools, don't charge extra for extra-curriculars
Of the many dumb
ways to close budget holes, perhaps the one most worthy of the title
“self-inflicted wound” is the move to reduce the number of extra-curricular
activities offered to students (or to pass along the costs to families in the
form of fees).
I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that one of
the reasons American kids do so well in life (starting entrepreneurial
companies, embracing a spirit of optimism, creating wealth, etc.)—even though
they score poorly on international tests—is because of what they pick up from
sports, theater, band, student council, and the like.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: Ohio superintendents: Yearning to break free--but after you go first
By Terry Ryan
…Since the Senate’s passage of SB 5,
superintendents have been inundated with phone calls and emails from local
union representatives and teachers expressing their dismay and anger with the
bill. Superintendents expressed serious concerns that the heat that came down
on lawmakers—(e.g. thousand
protesting at the statehouse and a group
of union activists confronting lawmakers in a restaurant)—will pale in
comparison to what they will face in their local communities as they work to
implement the reforms in SB5.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: What's Up With That?: The Ultimate Game of Rock, Paper, Scissors
How do districts determine “seniority” in case
of a tie? Chris offers some insights.
Briefly Noted: Delivering the goods
- Lynne Munson of Common Core offers a worthwhile
perspective on how to ramp up America’s international
competitiveness in the recent Educational
Leadership—the key: stop harping on structure and bring focus back to a
well-rounded, rigorous curriculum.
- There’s been much moving and shaking in the states this week: Minnesota
loosened its teacher-certification
law, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is preparing
to revamp the state’s teacher- and principal-evaluation systems, Wisconsin
Democrats have been found
in contempt, and Pennsylvania’s budget pushed the state in
a whole new direction.
- In the UK, they call it “deliverology”; in Louisiana, they call it
“common sense.” Whatever the name, Michael
Barber’s education-delivery plan is gaining steam across the U.S.
- Even with recent clashes in the states, President Obama is still bent on
pushing education as a bipartisan issue. Now he’s recruited Jeb
Bush to help prove the point.
To accept or not to
an internal battle as its Democrats and Republicans spar over how to use
the state’s $830 million in federal education-stimulus funding, thus far
Announcement: Three cheers for Columbus Collegiate
Collegiate Academy, a high-need urban charter middle school authorized by
Fordham, has been named one of only four New Leaders for New Schools EPIC Gold
Gain Schools for 2011. Congratulations to Principal Andy Boy and the staff and
students of Columbus Collegiate! Read more here.
Announcement: Striking gold at Goldwater
Institute—a government-watchdog organization with a focus on market-oriented
education reform—is hiring an education-policy director. If you have strong
writing, analytic, and interpersonal skills, as well as an interest in writing
policy briefs and organizing panels and symposia—and you don’t mind dry heat—find
out more about the position here.
Announcement: Discussing the traction of tracking with AEI
Interested in watching
four education heavyweights throw down on tracking? Head to AEI on Saint
Patty’s Day (March 17) from 3:30 to 5:00PM for a thought-provoking debate. For
more information, or to RSVP, click here.
If you can’t attend the event in person, it will be live webcast here.
Announcement: EWA wants you--for public editor
After three years with the National Education Writers Association, Linda Perlstein is moving on. As such, EWA is on the lookout for a new public editor. If you're a team player, with excellent writing and editing skills, who's interested in providing one-on-one coaching for education writers and editors across the country, then send a resume and cover letter here. Full job description is here.
Fordham's featured publication: Golden Peaks and Perilous Cliffs: Rethinking Ohio's Teacher Pension System
Dating to 1920, Ohio's State Teacher Retirement
System (STRS) now covers close to half a million members—active, inactive, and
retired teachers—or one member for every ten Ohio households. This 2007 report
raises serious questions about the system's long-term health and sustainability,
noting that the system’s unfunded liability is up past $19.4 billion. Instead
of saddling Buckeye residents with more debt, we need a transparent and
efficient system, accountable to the public. Read more here.