Say It Ain’t So, Joel!

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.

In the coming days, we will surely see a great deal written on Klein’s edu-legacy in the city that never sleeps.  There is little doubt that Klein has had a real and lasting impact on NYC and its schools.  Under his watch, NYC schools have improved, student test scores are up, and graduation rates are on the rise.  Klein tackled every challenge Bloomberg put before him, and he became one of the true leaders of the education reform/school improvement movement.  Yes, he has plenty of critics.  But you don’t bring change and you don’t break the status quo without attracting some enemies and some opposition along the way.  
By bringing in another “non-educator” in Black, Bloomberg is clearly hoping to catch lightening in a bottle for the second time in a row.  It is far too early to know what Black stands for and what her agenda will be.  All we can hope is that she builds on Klein’s successes while learning from his shortcomings (particularly his ability to effectively collaborate and engage with parents and the community at large).
Today’s announcement has far greater impact on school reform in general.  Next fall, we are looking at new superintendents (or chancellors) in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and Newark (just to name a few).  Some think a new supe in Atlanta is on its way.  That is a lot of change in some of our largest and most influential school districts.
We already know that LA is likely replacing its supe with a seasoned educator in John Deasy.  NYC is going the other route, with a seasoned business mind.  So how will mayoral control districts like DC, Chicago, and Newark break when the music stops and a new supe is placed in the big desk?
Now is the true measure to see the future of urban school reform.  Is Joel Klein the model, as DC tried with Michelle Rhee?  Do these districts in need go with educators who can work with strong teachers unions?  Or maybe this gives the Broad Foundation a real opportunity transform the urban school landscape?
And to think we used to worry about whether a potential supe candidate had the proper administrator credential in a given state …

The Drumbeat for Mayoral Control

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? 

Great Teachers, New Contracts, and Incentives, Oh My!

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.

A year ago, we thought the deal was dead as a doornail.  Earlier this week, a tentative agreement was reached (the members of the DC union still have to vote.  As always, Bill Turque of The Washington Post has terrific coverage of the issue, starting with the announcement story from earlier this week here and a very interesting story this AM about how former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke served as consigliere to bring this final deal over the finish line.
Whether intentional or not, the trio of chairs for the Education Equality Project — NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, UNCF President/CEO Michael Lomax, and NCLR President/CEO Janet Murguia — weigh in on the general topic this morning’s Washington Post in a strongly worded commentary on the need for “great teachers” in historically disadvantaged schools.
The EEP trio offers up a three-point plan on great teachers and improved student outcomes:
* Attract teachers who performed well in college
* Create systems that reward excellence (including making it “easier to remove teachers who are shown to be ineffective”)
* Do more to attract teachers to high-needs students, schools, and subject areas (including ELL and special education)
Obviously, this is not the first time we have heard these tenets from EEP, but today’s treatise may be the clearest and most direct explanation of the EEP platform.  It also becomes clear, when you look at the reports of the DCPS teacher deal, that Rhee was calling plays directly from the EEP playbook (or would that be from Chancellor Klein’s), seeking to model after some of the more successful policy and rhetoric on the issue of teacher quality and the incentivization of effective teaching.
It is also incredibly difficult to quibble with these three points.  Who is opposed to attracting successful students into the teaching profession?  Who doesn’t believe we should reward excellence, regardless of field?  And who doesn’t see the need to get our best teachers in the areas that need them the most, including historically disadvantaged schools and subject areas that have long been neglected.
But the devil remains in the details.  How do we sustain — over the long term — incentives for teachers, knowing that philanthropic and government support for teacher quality efforts may wane in a year or five?  When the outside support dries up, are our states and school systems positioned, financially, to continue to support those systems that are rewarding excellence?
How do we transfer that recognized excellence to the schools, classes, and students that need them the most?  For decades, many have talked about National Board Certification and how National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) were the best of the best.  Through federal dollars and private supports, NBCTs were financially incentivized to seek seek certification and stand as an NBCT back in their schools.  But there is still much disagreement on the impact of NBCTs, both as to whether they increase student performance AFTER teachers have gone through the certification process and if NBCTs are more or less likely to relocate to the schools that may need them the most.
But the real head scratcher is the issue of attracting teachers who performed well in college.  Based on the rhetoric, we are clearly looking at the Teach for America model, believing that academic superstars will make the best K-12 teachers.  EEP even offers up the urban legend that most teachers come from the bottom third of college graduates (Eduflack has heard the statement time and again, but has yet to see the research that actually proves it).
Without question, we need smart teachers in our classrooms, particularly in those classes that have been struggling for far too long.  But good teaching requires both book smarts and “street” smarts.  Good teaching requires educators who know the subject matter (their math, science, history, or English) but also know the pedagogy behind it.  Good teaching requires educators who can pivot off the “script” when faced with a challenging student or a challenging classroom.  Good teaching requires educators who understand what good teaching is, moving beyond the content knowledge and making those connections between teacher and student that can last a lifetime.  Such qualities cannot necessarily be taught through a textbook, an online course, or a pedagological bootcamp.  But they are qualities that are non-negotiable when it comes to good teaching.
As DCPS heads down the strongest path to date on teacher quality and teacher incentivization, and as EEP and others continue to spotlight the need to recruit and reward great teachers, we can’t lose sight of what comprises great teaching.  Test scores are, and always should be, an important part of how we identify effective instruction.  But there are other elements — both inputs and outcomes — that need to be factored in as well.
The EEP trio is absolutely right, schools and teachers are the differentiators between a good education and a lousy one.  And they couldn’t be more right when they say:

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.

Different teachers do get different results with similar students.  Our goal should be identifying why those teachers in Boston are doing a better job than those in other cities.  And then we need to replicate, replicate, replicate both the inputs and the outcomes.  It isn’t just about how Boston attracts those teachers, it is about the training and support those teachers receive.

EEP 2.0

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.

Today, though, we see that the work has just begun.  This morning, EEP announced three new co-chairpersons for the organization.  The Reverend Al era is over.  As of today, EEP is now co-led by NYCDOE Chancellor Joel Klein (a founder of EEP), UNCF President and CEO Michael L. Lomax, and Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.  (And, of course, the workhorse Ellen Winn remains as director of the organization.)
Why is this important?  For two reasons.  First, during the Al and Newt show, many discounted EEP for being all hat and no cattle.  They could do a great media event, but the group lacked the true substance necessary to truly move policy.  In other words, Al and Newt could grab you a headline or put a good segment on Meet the Press, but they weren’t the sort to roll up their sleeves and get changes to ESEA agreed to by legislators.  While it may have been an unfair criticism (particularly since Sharpton and GIngrich weren’t actually running the group, but were really just spokespersons), it was a criticism that stuck.  The three new co-chairpersons have both the sizzle and the steak necessary to capture attention and actually move the ball forward.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the new leadership at the board reminds us of the mission of the group and its origins.  We can forget what EEP stands for and we can discount what “education equality” actually means.  But the gravitas of the trio of co-chairpersons moves front and center the EEP mission of eliminating the racial and ethnic achievement gap in public education.  Lomax and Murguia are national leaders for empowering the black and Hispanic communities, respectively, on education issues. UNCF and La Raza are at the top of the game when it comes to such issues.  And whether folks like it or not, Klein’s tenure in NYC has been committed to closing the achievement gap and providing greater learning opportunities to historically underserved populations in the Big Apple.  So if these three are going to throw their intellectual heft and personal commitment behind the issue, we may see some real movement.
That movement, though, is going to be determined by the specific priorities EEP moves forward.  Some groups, particularly those who engage in educational civil rights and achievement gap concerns, often throw everything but the kitchen sink into a debate, fighting a noble fight but triggering few actual changes because they are asking for the sun and the moon.  If EEP can avoid that trap, and focus on the two or three specific issues that are most important to closing the achievement gap in our urban centers and increasing opportunities for students for historically disadvantaged students, have their membership hammer on those two or three without rest, and engage their advocates and third-party partners to support those issues as well, we may actually be able to move one or two of those topics to the front of the debate.  Without that focus, we may just be looking at another well-meaning group in a collection of well-meaning groups.
Klein, Lomax, and Murguia are definitely the folks who can lead such a focused advocacy campaign.  And Winn and company have proven particularly adept at using shoe-leather relationships, new media and social networking to spread the EEP message and effectively engagement of the stakeholders that matter the most.  The time is now to see if there is some real cattle behind that EEP hat. 

The NYC HIgh School Improvement Experience

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?

Where’s the 2009 Love?

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.

Those of us who have been hip deep in the education improvement movement often operate with blinders on, believing that the topics and issues that we are focused on are what the entire world are most concerned with.  About a month ago, Brookings came out with a study calculating that only 1.4 percent of the national news coverage in 2009 was education-related.  (Personally, as painful as the statistic was, I’d hate to see that number if we excluded coverage of Teach for America and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).  Despite all of our focus on teacher quality, test scores, Race to the Top, i3, and everything in between, we are only hearing about education 1 percent of the time.  It is no wonder that education is slipping on the list of important issues for likely voters.
And how do Time and Newsweek contribute to this discussion?  In their yearly wrap-ups, there is no mention of education.  No mention of the education implications of the stimulus bill.  No discussion of arguably the most popular member of the Obama cabinet, EdSec Arne Duncan.  No hat tips to TFA or charter schools.  No focus on supes like NY’s Joel Klein or DC’s Michelle Rhee.  No highlight of the growing attention to education coming from big city mayors from New York to Sacramento.  No headline for the $4 billion race.  Not even an acknowledgment to education in the tributes to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.
In fact, the closest thing to education making the headlines for the year was inclusion of’s Jeff Bezos and his efforts to revolutionize how we read.  But few are expecting to see the Kindle take over for textbooks in a K-12 classroom any time in our lifetime.
So we start a new year again asking where to find the love.  Are we fighting a losing battle, expecting to see education stories capturing the hearts and minds of the national media (beyond the cadre of dedicated national education media who are tilting at windmills)?  Or are we looking in the wrong places?
We shouldn’t be looking to Katie Couric or the New York Times for the latest and greatest.  We should be looking at local newspapers and talk radio and websites and blogs.  We should recognize that, for the most part, education remains a local issue, and as such, is one best discussed in cities and towns (and maybe states).  
If we’re looking for the next great solution, the magic bullets that are going to solve all that ails our public schools, those stories aren’t likely to appear on the national nightly news or in the glossy newsweeklies.  Instead, they’ll appear where the majority of parents and local policymakers are focusing their attention.  The legendary Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill is best known for saying all politics is local.  The same is true for education reform.  Most improvements are local.  And they are first found on local talk radio and the pages of those newspapers with circulations in the five figures.  

Under the Eduflack Tree 2010

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.

But Christmas is a special time of year, that time when we all get a blank slate and we all look forward to a new year with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment.  As for Eduflack, I don’t believe in naughty lists (personally, I’m worried about what all of my general agitation would mean for such databases).  And with two little kiddos at home who are the absolute loves of my life and motivations for getting up each morning, I’m all for being generous and giving gifts for both a great 2009 and the hopes of an even better 2010.  So without further ado, let’s check out what’s under the ol’ Eduflack tree this holiday season.
To NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, a return to the spotlight.  In 2008, Chancellor Klein was the king of the ed reform kingdom.  Scores were up in NYC.  The city was coming off the Broad Prize, and Klein was on the short list for U.S. Secretary of Education.  But a funny thing happened in 2009.  The good chancellor seemed to take a public back seat, dealing with collective bargaining agreements, a city council that was trying to take away mayoral control, and other such operational issues.  He even seemed to take a back seat with the Education Equality Project, letting Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich play center stage for much of 2009.  But 2010 is Klein’s year again.  With states and districts desperate to demonstrate sustained student gains on assessments and a closing of the achievement gap, there is no better model than the revolution that has happened in NYC over the last decade.  And the NYC experience is one that can serve as a research-based model for many urbans looking to secure i3 grants in the coming year.  Klein has always been a force, but with all of the elements coming together, 2010 can very well be the year of Klein.
To Detroit’s de facto public schools chief Robert Bobb, a wide berth.  By now, most of us have written off Detroit Public Schools, believing there is no hope for America’s most struggling urban district, whether it declares bankruptcy or not.  But for those not paying attention, Bobb is really trying to do God’s work up in the Motor City.  With a new mayor and a renewed sense of purpose, Bobb and his team and rebuilding the DPS infrastructure while taking on instructional reforms designed to improving student learning and close the dreaded achievement gap.  Bobb has thrown a lot against the wall in the past year.  Here’s hoping the city (and the nation) the time to see what sticks and build on what works.  Improvement is possible in Detroit, with the right time and support.
To EdSec Arne Duncan, a continued bounce in his step.  Without question, the past 12 months have been the year of Arne.  He started off strong, and quickly built a cult of personality around the nation.  (Some may even call it idol worship.)  He’s won friends where previous secretaries could only find enemies.  He’s talked, passionately, about issues that were taboo to previous federal education bosses.  And he has emerged as one of the leading voices for the administration, even on issues like economic stimulus and other issues not previously in the EdSec’s purview.  For the coming year, Duncan needs to keep pushing through, talking the tough talk, while walking the tough walk.  Many expect to see real results when it comes to Race to the Top and i3, so he has to be ready to talk about where we are (with details) and where we are going.  More importantly, though, he needs to keep that bounce and forward motion even after we discover that ESEA reauthorization is a gift most likely received in 2011.  Just keep driving to the basket, Mr. Secretary.
To House Education Chairman George Miller (CA), incremental success.  For a good portion of 2009, we assumed that Chairman Miller would successfully lead ESEA reauthorization in the first half of 2010.  Now, we know such thoughts are only for the most optimistic of optimists.  Eduflack realizes that healthcare reform has taken a lot out of your committee, but now is the time for you to move forward and make crystal clear to all involved that you are the educational top dog on Capitol Hill. Through the House Education and Labor Committee, let’s get your Graduation for All Act of 2010 passed into law as quickly as possible.  And while we’re at it, let’s make sure that Congress (both your House and the Senate) make Senator Patty Murray’s LEARN Act (focusing on reading) the law of the land before school’s out for summer.  Instead of looking for that four-bagger to win the game with one swing right now, let’s play a little small ball and move some very real education improvements now, improvements that can help many, many kids right now.
To Senator Mike Enzi (WY), ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee, an itch to fight for the home team.  In 2009, we spent a lot of time focusing on education reform issues that seemed custom tailored for urban areas.  RttT has turned into a focus on turning around low performing urban districts.  Despite the extra points for rural districts, most also see i3 as a reward for the Council of Great City Schools sect.  And even the most recent NAEP TUDA puts our gaze on what’s happening in the cities.  It falls to Senator Enzi (and to a lesser degree Rep. John Kline of Minnesota) to make sure that the voice of rural districts and the needs or rural students are heard in these school improvement discussions.  There are too many students attending small districts and rural schools for us to neglect them.  If we are going to improve achievement for all American students, we need to give rural schools the same attention we give urbans.  And we can’t forget that closing the achievement gap is about closing the gaps between white and black and closing the gaps between rich and poor.
Fortunately, Eduflack is feeling generous this season.  There are also gifts under the Eduflack tree for those who have done good work in 2009, those good little boys and girls like EdTrust’s Kati Haycock, EEP’s Ellen Winn, AFT’s Randi Weingarten, Rethink Learning Now’s Sam Chaltain, Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond, and the Alliance’s Bob Wise.  And special stockings for the EdWeek bloggers who keep us fed on a daily basis.  Keep it up! 
We also have those policy gifts that all get to enjoy for the coming year, those issues that can truly lift all boats.  We have STEM education, one of the few topics that can help all states and localities maximize the opportunities under Race to the Top and effectively link education reform to economic recovery.  Chicago’s Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), which may likely be the posterchild for effective i3 spending and the model for how we can really get an effective teacher quality and incentive program.  For scientifically based education, which is back with a vengeance as ED talks over and over again about evidence and innovation.  Effective teacher professional development, with more and more people realizing that improved student achievement and test scores requires a better equipped, better supported teacher force.  The rediscovery of data, both the continued exploration of good data versus bad and, more importantly, how we can effectively use data to improve our schools.  And
, 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.
And with that, I’ll put my edufinger to the nose attached to my broad face and little round belly, and wish a Happy Eduholidays to all!

Teacher Pay in Gotham City

Over the weekend, Eduflack was fortunate enough to break from the mugginess of our nation’s capital to enjoy the mugginess of the capital of the world — New York City.  After a busy and tough summer, I was fortunate enough to take in my fourth Mets game at Citi Field, this time preceded by the opportunity to be down on that perfect brown dirt and beautiful green grass, with my Fred Flintstone feet touching the same hallowed ground as my beloved New York Mets (before they all took to the DL this year).  I even got to meet David Wright, a great treat (though odd since he is a few years younger than my youngest sister).

These trips to NYC also give me a chance to get a better sense for what is happening in NYC’s public schools.  From time to time, I will wade into discussions on the great Joel Klein experiment, and will usually have my head handed to me by a group of irate New Yorkers.  Why?  I believe that Chancellor Klein has made some real gains in the City That Never Sleeps.  Student achievement on the state standardized tests is up.  The achievement gap appears to be narrowing.  Graduation rates are up.  Progress is being made.  We may quibble on whether progress has gone far enough and deep enough, but when you are steering a ship of that size and shape, any positive progress should be acknowledged.  He’s got that Broad Prize on his mantel for a reason.
For most of the summer, attention in NYC has been centered on the issue of mayoral control.  Thanks to the NY State Senate, we actually had a period of a few weeks when Mayor Mike Bloomberg was not actually in control of the schools.  Some used that opportunity to call for Klein’s head, trying to use the absence of the King as an excuse for a palace coup in DOE headquarters in Brooklyn.  Saner heads prevailed, the Klein team stayed intact, and the good Mayor is back captaining an educational renaissance in New York.
Along the way, we lost sight of the fact that the contract between the NYC Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers is set to expire.  The brouhaha over mayoral control forced us to forget that NYC’s public school teachers may soon be working without a contract.  And in an urban district like NYC, that is HUGE news.  Yet somehow it isn’t getting the HUGE media attention we would expect from similar issues in similar cities.
What was even more surprising, though, was the state of negotiations with the UFT.  For the record, Eduflack is not a New York Times reader.  When I am in NYC, my newspaper of choice is the New York Post.  First and foremost, better Mets coverage.  But it also provides a more “diverse” view of what is happening in the cities and the myriad of issues the boroughs are truly grappling with.  So I was quite taken by a splashy story on Mayor Bloomberg’s negotiating position with UFT.  These are numbers that I honestly can say rarely surface when we talk about the love/hate relationship between management and teachers in NYC.
According to the NY Post, Bloomberg is starting by placing an 8 percent pay increase on the table for all teachers.  At a time when police and firefighters are at risk for furloughs and the city is looking to tax the purchase of junk food and the mere appearance of folks from New Jersey to keep the lights on, he is starting by offering a fair raise to teachers in a tough economy.  Just by looking at the cards he has been dealt, well before we reveal the flop, Bloomberg is seeking to boost starting salaries in NYC schools to almost $50K a year, with veteran teachers gaining the possibility to max out at $108K by 2011.  The full story can be found here
And then we look a little deeper at the Bloomberg/UFT relationship over the years.  Since Bloomberg started hopping the subway down to Gracie Mansion, he will have boosted NYC teacher pay by almost 50 percent if this base 8 percent raise takes place.  There are few careers — particularly those in the public sector — that can boost those sorts of increases over the same period.
Of course, the cynics claim that Bloomberg’s starting offer is just the “pro quo” for UFT agreeing to the extension of mayoral control.  But even Eduflack isn’t quite that pessimistic.  Was the other 40 percent just a downpayment leading to this summer’s showdown in Albany?  Or maybe, just maybe, Mayor Bloomberg and his team recognize the important role NYC’s public school teachers play in academic achievement.  Better to dance with the ones who brought you national attention and the Broad Prize than to try and start over believing that the “system” and not the “teachers” are the drivers for that classroom performance.
At the end of the day, UFT may end up with more than the 8 percent that Bloomberg is anteing with.  A new union president may be looking to make a statement.  UFT could end up with a 10 or 11 percent boost when all is said and done.  They may even be able to extract some protections from Klein’s continued push to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom, at least protecting the checks and benefits for those educators that don’t fit with the chancellor’s long-term plan.  And they may even manage to leave their lasting mark on any Race to the Top or Innovation Fund application that would include NYCDOE.
Nearly two decades ago, then WV Gov. Gaston Caperton became known as the “education governor” because he withstood a two-week, statewide strike of his public school teachers, ultimately giving them raises that took them from the bottom of the rankings to the low middles of state teacher pay.  So what does that make Bloomberg?  If he is serious about essentially boosting NYC teacher pay 50 percent in a 10-year period, “education mayor” does seem to quite do him justice, particularly if the Klein team keeps student achievement on the rise while retaining overall student numbers and getting more of them to earn that high school diploma.  The term czar is now vastly overused.  Maybe it is time to resurrect that terrific moniker “Little Magician” in NY again.  I’m sure Martin Van Buren won’t mind.

Hittin’ the Road with Rev. Al and Newt

Politics, and education reform, do indeed make strange bedfellows.  When the Education Equality Project launched last year, many were left scratching their heads with regard to the Rev. Al Sharpton and NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein teaming up to improve the quality and results of our nation’s public schools.  Since then, their list of signatories reads like a who’s who in both Democratic politics and education reform circles, including many leading urban mayors and superintendents.

Earlier this year, they made a little extra room in the EEP bed for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has joined with them.  Gingrich has become a leading voice for EEP these days, focusing on the need to improve and the perils of the current mediocrity of American education and the dangers of an achievement gap that just doesn’t seem to want to budge.  It is quite ironic when one remembers that back in the mid-1990s GIngrich was the architect that called for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, demanding that K-12 decisions should be made by localities.  Now he is rallying reform through a national microphone with a federalist approach.
When EEP was first established last year, the then CEO of Chicago Public Schools was also a signatory.  Showing he was open to all good approaches to school improvement, Arne Duncan also signed onto the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education Initiative.  While EEP and BBA couldn’t be more different (in desired outcomes, measurements to track those outcomes, and general philosophical approaches to education and education reform), Duncan joined a deep list of practitioners and policymakers that decided to hedge their bets and sign onto both, simply saying we need to improve, and they will support whatever gets us there.
With today’s announcement out of the U.S. Department of Education, it looks like we can see where EdSec Duncan’s true heart lies.  This afternoon, Duncan will be a guest on the Al Sharpton Show radio show.  He will be joined by the brains behind the 1994 Republican Revolution, Gingrich.  The three will be speaking to their plans to take a joint road trip, visiting schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans to talk school reform.  ED is also planning at least one similar stop in a rural community for the same purpose. 
The tour should come as a shock to no one.  EEP has been an active voice promoting the Administration’s education policies, with their most recent white paper on teacher accountability reading like a cover tribute to the Race to the Top provisions.  EEP also has the added benefit of being the current Gates Foundation advocacy banner holder, having assumed Ed in 08/Stronger American Schools’ infrastructure and support.
Eduflack finds the stops along the Strange Bedfellows tour to be curious choices.  Baltimore shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, with the EdSec having just been up in Charm City praising school district leadership for turning around the district and helping it shed the state takeover label.  But that’s just it.  ED just made a big deal of Baltimore, so much so that the superintendent is now stating that they are the national model for urban school transformation.  We have to go back to the oldies but goodies already?  There are no other good urban “success stories” to promote?  
Then we move onto the City of Brotherly Love.  We have not heard Philly mentioned as a “reform” city since Paul Vallas left there years ago.  Current superintendent Arlene Ackerman is an EEP signatory, but her activities in DC and San Francisco speak far more to a BBAer.  Setting aside the city’s relatively stagnant test scores, Philadelphia is also a strong union city, with union members likely not to thrilled with the idea of merit pay and linking their assessment with the academic achievement of their students.  Things could get interesting in a city that once pelted snowballs at Santa.
And speaking of Vallas, we move to the Big Easy.  New Orleans makes the most sense, as it is an incubator for any and all reform that comes around (much as Chicago was during Duncan’s tenure).  They love them some charters down in New Orleans, and have embraced alternative certification, TFA, and New Leaders for New Schools.  And now that Vallas is setting aside his Illinois political dreams, Louisiana has a strong superintendent with a track record of innovations and student improvement.  But its test scores are far from catching up to its promise.
It helps that both Pennsylvania and Louisiana are on the short list of RttT states, standing as two of the 15 receiving technical assistance and $250,000 checks from the Gates Foundation to help with their RttT application preparation.   If anything, Gates understands the value of working across platforms, and linking their grantmaking with EEP rhetoric and RttT only strengthens their hand in the long term.
But the choices do leave me scratching my head a little.  No room to share a little love for Michelle’s work down in DC or for the progress made in Boston over the past decade?  No hat tip to the great work Beverly Hall and the work she has done down in Atlanta?  No show of confidence for the bold reforms that Robert Bobb is trying to put into place up in Detroit?  No continued love for Broad Prize winners Long Beach Unified in California or Brownsville (TX) Public Schools?  What about Houston, the birthplace of KIPP?  Not even a rolling stop in New York City?  Nothing for aspiring cities like Indianapolis, Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Clark County (NV), Cleveland, Austin, or Portland?  
Yes, all questions that are rattling around in my noggin.  But they are pushed aside by a bigger question.  Day after day, we witness the escalation in rhetorical sparring happening around the country over proposed healthcare reforms.  We see staunch advocates for both sides offering their sweat and tears (with many looking to draw some blood as well).  Will these whistlestops serve as a kumbaya moment for all involved, with conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, reformers and the status quoers joining together to fight the good fight for the “sake of the children?”  Or will that loyal opposition we know is out there start organizing and have their voices heard?  Will we see teachers fighting to protect their tenure?  Will we hear from those local controllers who want to return all accountability and assessment to a citizen school board and keep the feds out of their classrooms?  Will we witness concerned parents and community activists stand up for the “whole child” and profess there is more to education that just reading and math, and we need a host of qualitative measures and a greater emphasis on the arts and the social development of the child?  Will the home schoolers demand that school choice include more than just charter schools?
Or will we simply have more of the same, with everyone just hoping that they will have a chair when the music stops playing?  Since Eduflack’s rant in search of the “loyal opposition” earlier this week, I’ve heard from some that they are quietly organizing or silently twisting arms behind close doors to try and influence which tune we’ll be playing as we start walking the ESEA reauthorization circle.  Is that true, or are those who are quietly grumbling into their pillows at night simply hoping beyond hope that Holding Out for a Hero is going to start blasting through those ed reform speakers?
Am I trying to instigate an education reform fight?  Maybe.  But maybe I also think that these proposed reforms can only improve and get stronger if we force them to withstand public scrutiny.
 I too want to see these proposals succeed, but I also know that if support is merely on the surface, real change will never take hold once good ideas are moved into status quo implementation and decisions are made that leave many states and districts in the cold when it comes to new innovation money.  Are we playing for the love of the game, or will pay to play take effect, with SEAs and LEAs quickly losing interest when there isn’t a U.S. Treasury check there to reward their “loyalty?”

Lessons Learned from Ed in 08

Paraphrasing from Major League’s legendary Harry Doyle, in case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attention we haven’t, Strong American Schools has managed to win a few ball games, at least according to SAS.

Two years ago, the Gates and Broad Foundations announced a $60 million initiative designed to make education a major focus of the 2008 presidential campaigns.  Launched under the dual banner of the parent Strong American Schools organization and its Ed in 08 campaign, SAS issued a simple goal — “Use the presidential race to highlight the crisis in American public schools.”
It did so by issuing three key “pillars:” 1) common education standards; 2) an effective teacher in every classroom; and 3) extended learning time for students.
Yesterday, SAS offered up its summary report on the success of its two-year effort tilting at educational windmills.  After both the Democratic and Republic primaries showed little interest in education issues, and then as the bottom fell out of the economy during the general election, SAS never quite got the traction and influence it sought.  Then again, neither did similar efforts to highlight the crisis in healthcare, the environment, and a host of other issues.
None of us are foolish enough to believe that the 2008 presidential campaign was decided (or even debated) on education issues.  Both sides offered up comprehensive education plans.  Eduflack summarized the two here last fall.  Good ideas across the P-16 education continuum.  Now President Obama is being held accountable for promises on preK, teacher quality, incentive pay, and affordable college.  He’s also raised the ante by throwing a spotlight on STEM education, charter schools, and increasing the number of college graduates by 2020.
So what impact did Ed in 08 have on the current state of educational affairs?  How has ARRA and the presidential budget been shaped by the tens of millions of dollars spent by Ed in 08?  Honestly, we still don’t know.  When we look at the SAS successes, they don’t crosswalk cleanly with current policy or promises such as common standards.
According to Strong American Schools, its accomplishments were many, including:
* Obama supported (and continues to support) all three of the campaign’s policy pillars.  John McCain supported two.
* Ed in 08 had “significant input” on the education efforts of John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani.
* Changed the debate on performance pay
* Made education a bipartisan issue
* Produced more than 150 pages of research and policy materials
* Created an 86-page Policy Toolkit
* Commemorated the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk with a research update
* Published an examination of the cost of college remediation
* Created a network of 200 organizers and advisors across the country
* Received thousands of media hits
* Used the Internet and other new media tools to engage the public
These “wins” are a mixed bag.  Some are clearly process issues.  Some are stretches (did Ed in 08 change the debate on performance pay, or was that the result of a combination of programs such as Denver’s ProComp and Obama taking a tough stand on incentive pay early in the process?).  Some are just puzzling, such as education being a bipartisan issue (both sides have made education an issue for decades, they just do so from different perspectives).  
What is most interesting in the SAS summary report is the explanation of the obstacles, those challenges that prevented Ed in 08 from achieving its bold objectives.  These challenges include:
* Structure, as a not-for-profit, some activities were restricted, including claims that staff members could not take a position on any legislation, could not directly question candidates, nor could compare candidates’ platforms to SAS recommendations
* The media, and its failure to cover a sustained debate on education and its inability to “push policymakers to consider the failures of our current education system”
* The teachers unions, protecting “the interests of their members” even if it conflicted with reforms
As for structure, wasn’t it up to Broad and Gates to establish the most effective structure possible to achieve the goal?  If SAS was structurally prohibited from advocating for specific policies and holding candidates accountable, shouldn’t it have been built to allow for true advocacy?  Why build a ship that we can’t sail?
As for the media, did we really see the role of media, particularly that of the education media, to “push policymakers?”  If Ed in 08 can’t advocate an agenda, did we really expect reporters to do so?
And as for the unions, did we expect them to do anything other than protect their constituency, the group they are created to protect?
SAS should be given credit for better organizing new media and social networking outlets around education issues.  Their blogger summit in the spring of 2008 is but one example of this.  The drumbeat picked up by Richard Whitmire and others to keep the spotlight on education issues is another.  So there are successes.
More importantly, though, SAS has helped provide a blueprint that future advocacy efforts can learn from.  As part of its final report, SAS is handing the baton off to the Education Equality Project, looking to Joel Klein, Al Sharpton, and company to carry the torch on the issues of standards, teacher quality, and extended learning.  It could have also claimed credit for the current common standards movement, as Roy Romer’s clarion call for national standards and how to get there looks dangerously similar to what NGA, CCSSO, and other are engaging in right now.
So as groups like EEP, Broader and Bolder, Opportunity to Learn, Extended Day, and others look to build advocacy efforts around national education policy, reauthorization, and related issues, they should look closely at SAS.  What can they build on and improve?  What can they learn from and avoid?  What can they throw cold water on?  What can they aspire to?  What’s possible?  What’s a pipe dream?  
Personally, I think SAS was a good idea that was never fully realized.  It didn’t live up to the hype nor to the potential.  But that doesn’t it mean it couldn’t.  The model can work, with the right tweaks and the proper attention. Education advocacy is a must these days.  For all those looking to get in the game, let’s take a close look at Strong American Schools, learning from its forward steps and its missteps.  Rather than starting new each and every day, we need to build on those that come before us.  That’s the only way that real, lasting educational improvement can come.