Throughout the education world, it seems virtually everyone is jockeying for position in terms of 2009 priorities. We go through President-elect Obama’s education platform and policy speeches, looking for indications of priorities and preferences. This week, many an organization waited with baited breath to see what would come out of the Gates Foundation convening, thinking and hoping for new issues or a new priority or two. And no one is quite sure when (or even if) we’ll see reauthorization of ESEA in the next 12-18 months.
Many an education blogger is suffering through a sagging jaw this morning over yesterday’s Gates Foundation convening. On the whole, the Gates meeting was a reiteration of the Foundation’s mission, pledging to strengthen high school and get more students college ready. As Eduflack hoped for yesterday, the issue of teacher quality has been added to the agenda. But for the most part, the Gates Foundation is standing pat. See the full story at Education Week — www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/11/11/13gates.h28.html?tmp=784407125
Today, many an education reformer is waiting to hear word out of Seattle, Washington. Why? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supposedly making a major announcement regarding the future of its educational philanthropy. Some, particularly current grantees, believe today’s discussion will be a reiteration of current priorities and a discussion of the successes of work such as small schools, high school reform, and early college high schools. Others, though, are expecting a major paradigm shift, one that re-aligns Gates funding with the 2008 (or 2009) edition of our schools’ needs.
lity options (including its ECHS models). All are likely to be part of the framework.
It is common to hear that college is about more than classes. At the end of four (or five, or six) years, successful students will have built relationships with a network that will support them for decades, gained valuable skills in areas like problem-solving and teamwork, figured out the notion of multitasking, and generally had to take responsibility for their own day and the hours within it.
Well, Eduflack really stepped into it yesterday. Writing about the future of NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in an Obama Department of Education, I remarked that NYC has seen improved student achievement during the Klein era, an observation gathered through personal experience, conversation, news coverage, and other third party sources.
As the Obama teams plans a new organization and new staffing for the U.S. Department of Education, one primary thought from the field is the role of real educators — and real administrators — in the new ED. Eight years ago, Rod Paige became the first schools superintendent (he, of Houston) to take the helm as the nation’s chief schools officer. Since then, some have questioned whether the job is the right job for a superintendent, what with its political, policy, administrative, and organizational requirements.
Earlier in the week, Eduflack advocated for the need to put a governor at the top of the Education structure. Yes, I recognize that likely means appointing an individual who has not been a classroom teacher or who has personally worked in instruction or in education policy. But a governor provides the leadership, the management, and the command of the bully pulpit that is in such demand at ED. Personally, my short list would include NC’s Mike Easley, Arizona’s Janet Napolitano (though she is being mentioned for AG and Homeland Security), and Tennessee’s Phil Bredensen.
So what is the role of the superintendent in the new ED? Currently, the top practitioner is Ray Simon, the former state schools chief and superintendent from Arkansas. And if the local media reports are any indication, that seems to be the model Obama is pursuing as well. On this morning’s NYC news, the expectation is that NYC Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein will move to ED, possibly to take over the number two position. This would name Klein the de facto COO of the Department. And if the Ray Simon mold holds, he would also retain a significant policy role, particularly as it applies to K-12 policy, including NCLB, IDEA, and the offices that govern them (OESE, OII, OSERS, OELA).
Similarly, a rumor has started brewing that Peter McWalters, the outgoing education commissioner in Rhode Island, is the frontrunner to head the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. The commissioner is one of the longest serving chief state school officers in the nation, and has a long and distinguished career as a practitioner and school and district leader. Personally, I think he would be great at OESE, just the leader the office has needed for quite some time.
Over the last decade, we have seen a shift in public thinking about public schools. Issues like accountability and achievement gaps are now dominating the landscape, for good or bad. We hear it from the business community, we hear it from appropriators and authorizers at the policy level, we hear it from parents, and we even hear it from the educators themselves. So it only makes sense that someone who has “walked the walk” is involved in developing and enforcing the policies designed to improve our public schools and boost student achievement.
The bigger question is, if you are Joel Klein, do you leave NYC for anything less than the top job at ED? In NY, Klein has led a revolution in public instruction. Test scores are up. The achievement gap is smaller. The district has won the Broad Prize. And teachers, kids, and parents are more interested and more involved in the process of improving our schools. There is a greater commitment to school quality in NYC than we have seen in quite some time.
If Klein can replicate that model at the national level, and help districts across the nation do what his team did in NYC, then this is the logical choice. But if the number two job yields much of its policy-shaping responsibility to the Under Secretary, as was the model in the Clinton/Riley Department of Education, isn’t Klein better off continuing improvement in NYC and finishing what he started? Aren’t we better off as a nation, allowing him to demonstrate the long-term, longitudinal effects of his reforms in the world’s greatest city?
We need great thinkers and great leaders at ED. Klein and McWalters both fit in both categories. But if they are tapped, they need to be tapped for the right position. The worst thing we can do is bring in the right people, then put them in the wrong job, denying them the opportunity to do what they do best and stripping our nation of their ability to make a true, long-term difference.
As President-Elect Obama and his Administration-in-waiting begin working through the transition, they have a terrific opportunity to shape the direction of future policy and future successes. With each new administration, particularly with a change in party leadership, there is the opportunity to reorganize Cabinet departments, the chance to emphasize new priorities and to turn back the efforts of previous administrations. While Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution cautions against overhauls and reorganizations at the start of an Administration, now is definitely the time to look at a new organization for the U.S. Department of Education.
there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done to meet that goal. IES needs to broaden its mission beyond the WWC and become a true clearinghouse for quality research and a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for what works. More importantly, it needs to expand the dialogue beyond the researchers and effectively communicate the education sciences to practitioners, advocates, and others in the field.
Dear President-Elect Obama,
isions, spending decisions, and instructional decisions. More importantly, we just need to plain know that what we are doing works, and it works in schools like mine, in classes like mine, with kids like mine. There is nothing wrong with accountability if it is a shared responsibility, shared by government, schools, teachers, parents, and the students themselves.
For years now, we have been talking about the need to focus on improved rigor in secondary instruction. Rigor has long been a core component of the Gates Foundation redesign philosophy, and many reformers have signed onto the notion that if secondary (and postsecondary) education is as important as it is in today’s economy and today’s society, and we are going to push more kids to acquire that education, we need to make a diploma or a degree as worthwhile as possible.
Reading First has been the federal law of the land for more than six and a half years now. To date, more than $5 billion has been provided to the states to implement scientifically based reading programs in their schools. A huge bucket of dollars, these moneys were intended to provide evidence-based curricular materials, instructional programs, interventions, and professional development in those schools that needed the most help in getting every child reading proficient.