Breaking edu-news out of New York City. NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has resigned, after eight years of helming the nation’s largest public school system. And never one to miss a beat, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already named Klein’s permanent replacement — Cathie Black, the chairwoman of Hearst magazines and the publisher of USA Today.
Do mayors run better urban school systems? That is the question the Wall Street Journal asked yesterday as it used Rochester (NY) Mayor’s Robert Duffy’s bid to take over his struggling city schools as a launching pad to discuss the merits of mayoral control.
Duffy is lobbying the New York Legislature to take over his schools, seeking to dissolve the current elected school board and replace it with a board appointed by himself and the city council. The pressing demand? The need to close failing schools and reopen new ones better aligned with student needs and learning expectations.
For those that read the WSJ’s education coverage, this is a regular drumbeat. Back in March of 2009, the Journal wrote (and Eduflack opined on) an interesting piece on the growing embrace of mayoral control, riffing off of the notion that President Obama and EdSec Arne Duncan were advocating for mayoral takeovers in order to implement their aggressive school improvement plans. As it did 17 months ago, the Wall Street Journal cites successes in New York, Boston, and Washington DC to make its case for giving the keys to the schools to the municipal leader.
Interestingly, yesterday’s article by Joy Ressmovits seems to note there has been no mad rush to add to the powers of our nation’s mayors. Despite last year’s declarations, we are not seeing huge numbers of urban districts turning to mayoral control. Despite efforts in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee, such moves seem to be the exception, not the rule.
First, there is no clear “mayoral control” model for which one can buy the playbook and just implement the plan. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg had a particular plan in place, and he and Chancellor Joel Klein have implemented it step by step. In our nation’s capital, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee have tried to crib from NYC and build a NYCDOE South in DC. But leaders in Boston have behaved very differently, both in leadership style and in organization. The same can be said for Chicago.
Second, because there is no one-size-fits-all model, there is no guarantee of success. Just look at Cleveland, where student performance on NAEP has actually declined since the mayor’s office took control of the schools. Or look at NYC, where despite an historic increase in test scores, many still believe that the current regime isn’t working, even seizing on the recent realignment of the state assessment to discredit recent gains. And in DC, after two years of real gains, this year’s scores seem to have flatlined some.
Third, there are real political ramifications for taking over the schools. Case in point here is Washington, DC, where Fenty is in the re-election fight of his life this fall. One of the central issues to the campaign? Control of the schools. Fenty’s chief opponent, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, has made major issue of how the DC Schools are run. So much so, in fact, that he has strongly suggested one of his first orders of business when elected mayor would be the removal of Rhee as schools chancellor. Who would have thought a superintendent would be a major campaign issue for an urban mayor?
If we just look at the NAEP, clearly mayoral control is not the answer to school success. The top districts (including Charlotte, NC and Austin, TX) on the NAEP TUDA are those run by school boards. Mayoral control superstars like NYC and Boston are still posting scores below the national NAEP average (though above the large city average).
In hearing Mayor (and hopeful NY LG) Duffy tell his tale, one has to believe there has to be a middle ground. Can’t we adequately deal with failing schools without needing to seize control of the district? Can’t school boards be held to the same accountability as we expect of the superintendent and the principals? Aren’t there incentives (beyond the current federal dollars) to get school districts to make the necessary changes to turn around histories of failure? Aren’t there ways to bring in the reforms Duffy seeks without having to go to the state legislature and ask for the nuclear option to deal with the schools? And as we assess our ability to turn around struggling districts, what measures should we use, besides NAEP, to determine success?
Lots of questions. But who has the answers?
After a few days, the dust is finally settling on the supposed deal between Michelle Rhee and the teachers’ union in Washington, DC. By now, we’ve all heard the Cliff Notes version — significantly increased teacher pay, performance bonuses, elimination of full protection of tenured teachers’ jobs from budget cuts, huge financial assistance from national philanthropies.
Different teachers get very different results with similar students. So as reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is considered, we should look closely at those whom we attract and retain to teach, with regard to their quality and to ensuring that they are distributed equally across our school districts. If we can do those things, we could at least make Detroit students perform like those in Boston, and make Boston students do a lot better.
Some still don’t quite know what to make of the Education Equality Project, or EEP. When it was launched in 2008, we assumed it was another “reformer” group preparing to ride the Obama wave. Then we had the strange bedfellows experiment of Rev. Al Sharpton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the “faces” of EEP, showing EdSec Arne Duncan some of the major issues facing urban education. Along the way, we’ve had the logical “comparison” to the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education and then the partnerships with Education Trust, Democrats for Education Reform, and Center for American Progress on critiques of Race to the Top and other federal ideas. And Eduflack even remembers a time last year when critics were saying EEP was closing shop, having run out of funding and “accomplished” its goal but getting like-minded reformers in the Duncan regime.
Whenever Eduflack writes about the “successes” of New York City’s school improvement efforts under Chancellor Joel Klein, I get publicly flogged by some audience or another. Most take significant issue with my conclusions that NYC Department of Education has improved the quality of the public schools. Others take issue with giving Klein (and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) credit for such school improvement. And even if I can get the opposition to acknowledge an uptick in student achievement in NYC, they will immediately retort that the gains are minimal, and not nearly enough to declare turnaround efforts in New York a success.
My responses to such criticism have been relatively simple. The test scores, at least on New York’s state exams, do show gains in both reading and math in NYC. If you don’t believe the final tallies coming from Albany, you should at least acknowledge that NYC has won the Broad Prize, and that Broad similarly crunched the numbers and found academic gains across the city. And if the gains aren’t big enough for you yet, first, give it time. Then remember how large the NYCDOE truly is. Upticks in a system that size are worthy of praise.
Always a glutton for punishment, Eduflack is going to raise the NYC achievement flag again. Today, we’re going to reflect on a forum hosted yesterday by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Offering a multi-hour symposium yesterday under the banner of “Informing Federal Education Policy Through Lessons from New York City,” the Alliance also put a spotlight on a new report it has released, “New York City’s Strategy for Improving High Schools.”
So let’s take a look at the most recent set of numbers, namely four-year high school graduation rates. The Alliance took a look at four different calculations of NYC graduation data from 2002 to the present. By NYC’s own calculations, grad rates rose more than 29 percent from 2002 to 2008, from 51 percent to 66 percent. According to the state calculation, rates increased nearly 52 percent, from 40 percent to 61 percent. EdWeek has the number increasing 35 percent from 2002 to 2006 (37 percent to 50 percent). And Jennifer Jennings and Leonie Haimson have the grad rates lifted nearly 18 percent from 2002 to 2007 (40 percent to 47 percent).
Let’s set aside, for a second, the fact that no one started with the same 2002 baseline. (yes, we still have problems with data collection and such) Even if we throw out the top score and the bottom score (in the Olympic tradition), we are still looking at a gain in NYC’s high school graduation rates of nearly 33 percent from where we started in 2002. In an era of drop-out factories and rising dropout rates, such numbers in NYC are worth paying attention to.
Whether you like the rhetoric coming out of NYCDOE or not, you can’t deny that the Klein plan has had a real impact, and an impact for the good. As other urban centers struggle to deal with graduation rate challenges, NYC has found real solutions. And it has done so applying a four-year graduation rate formula (a calculation many fear because it offers a lower grad rate than many want to admit.)
Moreover, NYC has been able to apply its high school reforms to help close the achievement gap. According the Alliance, “since 2005, the black-white and Hispanic-white [graduation rate] gaps have narrowed by 16 percent and 14 percent respectively.”
New York City may still be a work in progress, but aren’t these the sorts of numbers we are working toward? Klein and company offer a clear plan for how they are going to fix the problems (a plan so clear that it draws a with us/against us line). They take the necessary steps to implement that plan, regardless of the “friends” it may create. And then they have the data to demonstrate effectiveness, with both test scores and graduation rates rising. Isn’t that our ultimate end game? And if it isn’t shouldn’t it be?
Yes, I recognize that we have started a new year. But Eduflack is also mindful of the words of Winston Churchill that “those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” So I can’t start the new year without looking over those lovely Year in Review editions put out by Time and Newsweek last week.
It is that time of the year again. Most of the year, Eduflack can be critical, cynical, and downright combustible about what is happening in the education community. We spend a great deal of time talking, but little time delivering. We get caught up on the 20 percent or so of improvements we don’t agree on, thus neglecting the 80 percent that could make real change now. And we regularly fall into a cult of personality, rather than focusing on the substance of both character and ideas.
, of course, common core standards, which is hoping to work through a rough past few months to deliver every U.S. school child, regardless of zip code, one common yardstick to determine if we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the future … or not.