Friday, December 30, 2011

As We Approach 2012 - Scrappy Reformers are Turning the Tide

In the battle between the Goliaths of the status quo and the scrappy Davids of education reform, the tide may be slowly turning.  It was Arthur Reynolds Award winner Anthony Russo, whose This Week in Education article brought new attention to the battle for the hearts and minds of the American public, but the battle lines could not be more sharply drawn.

On the one hand, you have the Evil Empire.  If there is a person in public life who more closely resembles Darth Vader than Diane Ravitch I don't know who it is.  She was once a promising educational expert in her own right with the Bush administration before she was drawn to the dark side of critical thinking and educating the whole child instead of regimented standards based testing and preparation. 

Of course Darth Vader didn't like doing his own dirty work.  That's where the army of public school teachers come in.   Through their unions they fight the very changes that will save education.  In fact, they've been fighting these changes so hard for so long, they've made it very hard to find any evidence that the best reforms like charter schools, merit pay, and ending last in first out benefit students. 

This of course brings us to the force.  With evidence mounting that the very reforms we have staked our reputations or our careers on do not work, we're left to take it on faith.  Why is it that they don't work?  I believe it's teacher sabotage, but it may be some other equally plausible reason.  However, what we have is faith.  In Star Wars, they refer to that faith as The Force.  I believe that the force of education reform is equally power.

On the opposite side, are a ragtag collections of rebels.  In the picture above I used Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Eli Broad as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Hans Solo, but there are a whole lot of these underdog heroes like Rahm Emanuel as C3PO, Mike Bloomberg as Obi Wan Kenobi, and Chris Christie as Chewbacca.   Despite overwhelming odds, they've fought a tough campaign against the establishment from their cobbled together resources.

Now, I said the tide was swinging towards the rebels and it is.  In Star Wars, the empire was everywhere, but there would always be a number of backwater planets inhabited by scoundrels and cut throats, where rebels who sometimes had shady pasts like Han Solo could plot the rebellion.  In this world, that place is Detroit.  In Detroit politicians with imagination have given Emergency Manager the freedom to take on teachers and collective bargaining.  The money he has saved from over inflated teacher contracts has enabled him to bring in Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson from Seattle and John Covington from Kansas City.  They both have very shady pasts and they may just be the kind of rogues we need to finally take down The Empire.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Defense of the Rubber Stamp

As Regional Director for Teacher Development with Last Stand for Children, I have attended quite a few Chicago Board of Education meetings.   I have always loved these meetings for the model of efficiency that they are.  Even though the Board knows how they will rule on things ahead of time, community members will wait in line for 2 or 3 hours so that they can have their voices heard on education matters that affect them and their families.   The Board skillfully groups speakers on common topics into one two minute presentation so that everybody will have their voice heard.  The speakers don't change anything and that's fine.  They feel that they've had their voice heard and that's what democracy is all about.

All of that orderly democracy was ruined on December 14th when parents and community activists aligned to an agenda pushed forward by the militant Chicago Teachers Union disrupted the meeting.  According to news pamphlet The Chicago Sun-Times, "Adourthus McDowell, a Chicago Public School parent and member of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, began the takeover by rising from his chair and interrupting a presentation by Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard on a new $660 million capital construction plan."

There is a happy ending here because the board courageously met in closed session and approved the plan providing many schools in disrepair with the money to get much needed renovations before next school year when they are turned over to the highly connected AUSL group. Board President David Vitale ran AUSL before Rahm Emanuel handpicked him to save Chicago's public schools.  I'm sure it must have been a dream come true for him to be able to help his old organization.

There are many reasons why these turnarounds are necessary.   For instance, Casalas school is doing so poorly on state achievement tests that nearly half of all AUSL schools are beating it.  Chicago has had great success turning around schools, so much in fact that they turned around one high school twice--that's 720 degrees of education reform.  AUSL is the premier group for turnarounds and their record includes a huge success at Collins High School

What is most distressing though is what this outburst does for the rubber stamp.  The rubber stamp is a time honored tradition that I would hate to see go.  As Board President Vitale said, many who wished to be heard were not because of this mic check.  The meeting was actually taken over by the people in the audience who decided to hold their own meeting while the Board was meeting in closed chambers.  A Board meting without the Board is just wrong.  Without a rubber stamping authority, there is nobody to rubber stamp.  Fortunately, the Board returned and order was restored, but the damage to our democracy was already done.  

Speaking of loud voices ruining Democracy, I wanted to thank Andrew Russo for his great article in This Week in Education defending small groups like ours, Stand for Children and Students First who are under constant attack by internet bullies.  Thank goodness somebody besides Bill Gates has the courage to let our voices be heard.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Kim Jung Il Education Reform Has Lost a Friend

In our country, we pride ourselves on our meager attempts to bring common core standards to the American education system.  In North Korea, 10,000 school girls will cry for 48 hours in tribute to their fallen leader.  North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il was a despot, but the education reform movement owes a great deal of thanks to North Korea's enigmatic little leader.

When Mayor Bloomberg in New York announces that he would like to fire half the city's teachers and double class size or when Mayor Emanuel in Chicago closes down those schools that have displeased him, I can't help, but see a little bit of beloved leader there.  Like him or not, Kim was the master of doing things his own way because it was good for the people of North Korea.  Some people may have thought he was crazy to kidnap a movie director to make a Godzilla ripoff for him, but he thought it was good for the people of Korea.  His $700,000 annual liquor tab was just the kind of cost overrun so many great reformers have dealt with. 

According to North Korean historical literature, "Kim Jong Il was born in a log cabin inside a secret base on Korea’s most sacred mountain, Mt. Paekdu. At the moment of his birth, a bright star lit up the sky, the seasons spontaneously changed from winter to spring, and rainbows appeared."

I can't be the only person who is reminded of Michelle Rhee's description of her teaching career in Baltimore when I read that paragraph.  Historical accounts may contradict both stories, but perception is everything in the reform game or when running a country.  Kim reportedly shot 11 holes in one the first time her played golf.   Surely, Michelle Rhee could get behind that kind of creative erasing as well.

As the national of North Korean mourns, the country's leadership will be placed in the hands of Kim Jong Un.  One of Un's classmates said of him, ""He left without getting any exams at all. He was much more interested in  basketball than lessons."  As stories of Un's intensity on the basketball court, I couldn't help thing that North Korea will be OK.  Afterall, just look at how Arne Duncan has parlayed a similar skill set.