We all recognize that 2008 was a relative no-go for education issues. With political campaigns, mortgage bailouts, and economic crises, education improvement just failed to capture the hearts and minds of the American people, nor did it warrant the attention of the average newspaper editor. Yesterday’s announcement that Denver Public Schools Chief Michael Bennet was a good start to the education year. Today’s Washington Post is even better. Not one, not two, but three articles in the A section of WaPo related to education and education improvement.
Exhibit A: On the national/state front, WaPo reports on efforts by a group of Democratic governors to secure $1 trillion in economic stimulus for the states. Why the interest? In addition to the money we’ve already been hearing about for school construction, this plan includes $250 billion “in flexible education spending to maintain funding for programs from pre-kindergarten to higher education,” Robin Shulman writes. That means we have the majority of governors standing up, asking for the funds needed to provide our classrooms with the instructional materials, technology, and teacher supports necessary to get the job done. As Eduflack has written here before, funding for books and computers and technology are often the first to go in a budget crisis, seen as non-essential while supes look to pay teacher salaries and keep the lights on and the buses running. Our states need help to keep school improvement efforts, moving forward. Now the governors are asking (as has AASA and AFT, among others). The full story is here: <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/02/AR2009010202277.html?hpid=topnews
Exhibit B: On the local front, Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools Chief Jack Dale is sticking to his guns and fighting to save the strict grading policy the school district has in place. Parents have been leading a valiant effort to try and weaken Fairfax County’s current system and move to a 10-point scale (meaning an A is earned with a 90-100 score, versus Fairfax’s current 94-100). In an era where we need tougher standards and measures to ensure all students are competing, making it easier for kids to get As is not the answer. Watering down grading scales to ensure college admittance or to better chances at scholarships is not the answer. It is far easier to go along with parent demands and the policies of neighboring school districts. Dale is standing firm, recognizing that achievement and high standards are important. The full story is here: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/02/AR2009010202430.html And it has Eduflack wondering if we need a national grading scale to accompany those national standards our schools could benefit from.
Exhibit C: Education improvement, embodied in Colbert King’s latest and greatest. Like many, King opines about Michelle Rhee and her efforts as top dog of DC Public Schools. As we all know, the reigning 2008 Core Knowledge Blog Education Person of the Year has been getting a lot of national media attention, including the network evening news and a Time magazine cover. But King asks a question that Eduflack has also previously raised. Who ultimately pays the price for Rhee’s showdown with DC teachers? I worry about her ability to work with the teachers she needs to enact her reforms after she tries to destroy their local union and their collective voice. King worries about the long-term on DC’s students. One has to appreciate Rhee’s zeal in moving forward with her improvement plans and doing what it takes to get them in place. But one can’t forget the teachers who determine whether such efforts are a success or failure, nor can one ignore the impact on the students we are ultimately trying to help. King reminds us of this, and his full column can be found here: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/02/AR2009010202078.html?hpid=opinionsbox1
Lots of issues to get the intellectual juices flowing. What does it tell us? The real action on the education improvement front is likely to happen at the state or the school district level, evidenced by the Dem governors call for funding and Jack Dale’s fight to save his grading scale.
And we are again reminded that personality can get in the way of good policy. Rhee has built a real cult of personality around herself and her plans for DCPS. That can be helpful in the early days of an administration, as you try to give some context and some understanding for reforms. But it can get dangerous when we can’t separate the voice from the rhetoric. We’ve learned that time and again in both politics and education. The best of plans fail because we can’t separate a controversial personality from a terrific idea.