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Morning Shots

Not So Fast (Part 2)

DomeNewsweek’s Jonathan Alter was ahead of the reform curve in media coverage back when it was not a popular thing to do. He’s been an avid fan of great models that provide at least some power to parents, and lots of freedom from bureaucracy. He understands the problems with unions. He even uses the language I put forth four years ago when talking about what was once called “traditional” public education and instead describes it as “conventional,” which is more to the point.

Alter’s column this week puts some heft behind the selection of Denver, CO superintendent Michael Bennet to be Ed Secretary. Could we really have another Bennett in that office? We could have a lot of fun with comparisons, but for now, we’re struck by the uncritical gaze that the otherwise keen Alter has given to both Bennet – and his interviewee of the week – Bill Gates.

Both in Alter’s estimation are reformers. He says Gates told him he believes in merit pay – and yet I’m not fully aware of any policy groups that strongly push for performance based pay changes in law which Gates is throwing money behind. The Gates Foundation is financially and morally supportive of the work of Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein and clearly Michael Bennet. But what superintendents can do is limited unless their state legislatures make it easier for them to free teachers from contract rules that limit pay and operational structures. Put in layman’s terms, it is state law that often dictates what supers do – state laws that teachers’ unions fiercely lobby for and against. We’re all for in-system reform – but one shouldn’t expect every super to be as heroic – or crazy – as reformers

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How low can you go?

Congratulations go out to Detroit Public Schools who seem to have finagled a bailout from a friendly state legislature. Surely the Michigan House of Representatives has much to admire about their largest school district – dismal achievement scores, distressing drop out rates and mismanaged budgets on a scale even a Wall Street bank executive could admire.

So, in the face of all that accomplishment, and with nothing else seeming to occupy their legislative agenda, what could responsible elected officials do other than reward DPS?

1) Allow for more choice and educational opportunity for Detroit children and their parents.

2) Tighten financial accountability to ensure money is going where it should.

3) Throw more money and resources at the problem in hopes that it will go away. 

House Democrats have seen fit to lower the standards of what defines a “first class school district” from 100,000 students to 60,000 students, allowing for continued funding and other perks.

One perk the teachers’ union has fought for is blocking charter school growth in the city. With a current enrollment of just over 94,000 kids, Detroit is poised to lose its “first class” standing under current law. Without a legislative re-definition, the restriction on community colleges authorizing new charter schools would be lifted.

The House may consider the new definition of a “first class school district” today, and with a party line vote expected, congratulations to DPS and the teachers’ union on your victory. If you lower expectations enough, perhaps one day you will be seen as successful.

Keep up the good work.


Not your average cover girl

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee seems to be dominating the media these days, and she’s making headlines again this week, gracing the cover of TIME Magazine.

While there’s nothing glamorous about firing nearly 300 teachers and principals, Rhee has made more changes within DCPS in one year than most could even dream about over several decades. She’s not your typical cover girl, as TIME points out. She’s been called a “nightmare” but Chancellor Rhee seems okay with that. “Have I rubbed people the wrong way? Definitely. If I changed my style, I might make people a little more comfortable… but I think there’s real danger in acting in a way that makes adults feel better.”

A piece in today’s Washington Post shows that this new style can work, but with folks like AFT boss Randi Weingarten highly critical of this new trend, it is unlikely to catch on without bold leadership from our elected officials.


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