This Week’s Must Read

The NYTimes Magazine and Steven Brill have a way of publishing definitive, water-cooler-friendly pieces about the existential issues of ed reform.  This week’s opus – “The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand” – is sure to have effects similar to the biggest splashes in recent years.  Read it, or risk being the only one who hasn’t at the ed reform salon you frequent.

Kidding aside, there are some absolute gems in here.  Here’s John King, the rockstar senior deputy commissioner at NY’s state education department, on coming to grips with the political reality of changing the system from the inside:

King says that “navigating all of the competing interests in New York is a lot different than any other job I have had.” Thus, he explains, that with “all of the limits we had with the laws and collective-bargaining agreements in place and the political reality of the Legislature,” preparing New York’s application “was difficult and frustrating.”

Brill on Randi Weingarten’s jedi mind tricks vis-a-vis teacher evaluation reform:

Weingarten has always embraced teacher accountability in theory, but with the caveat that the system has to be fair, after which she adds that there’s no way to guarantee that linking student progress to testing will be fair because tests don’t take subjective factors into account, nor would allowing subjective evaluations by principals be fair.

To her credit, the contract Randi agreed to in Washington, DC is concrete and gets away from this caveat-heavy version of change.

On the changing politics of education:

“My basic calculus of school reform is that I know I have every Republican vote and at least some of the Democrats,” says Mike Johnston, a Colorado state senator who is a Democrat and avid reformer.

You really should read the whole thing, and there’s a lot of good stuff about Race to the Top’s genesis and how much credit Jon Schnur should get for its architecture.  It’s hard to pin down a single over-arching theme, although the article’s title does a lot of work here.  Suffice it to say, I think we’re beyond the “Aw, isn’t that cute, some people want to change the schools” phase.

One Response to This Week’s Must Read

  1. john thompson says:

    “gets away from this caveat-heavy version of change.”

    Caveat-heavy change is the only way to produce real and constructive change.

    Come on Justin, even if Brill doesn’t know it, you know that D.C.’s law on evaluations is unique. No other district is governed so directly by Congress. And yet it got the best caveats – or protections – that were available for the District’s heavy-handed evaluation system.

    The hard fact of the matter is that evaluations of hardcore neighborhood schools – if done without caveats – will drive competent teachers from those schools. You know the the best teachers in the toughest neighborhood secondary schools will not come close to meeting their growth target. If Districts follow the letter of the laws enacted to support RttT applications, they will have to fire effective teachers just because they teach in ineffective schools, or they must search for caveats. By the way, you know -even if Brill doesn’t – that there is a huge body of social science that explains why that’s true.

    At a time when districts are supposed to be upgrading the STEM standards, data-driven accountability and the replacement of seniority with “effectiveness,” without caveats they would first drive all Biology I and Alegra I teachers out of the profession. You must know why those teachers, on the whole, will find it impossible to meet growth targets, but I doubt that Brill has any idea why. Think of every caveat, or loophole or trick, used to meet NCLB AYP, and then think of how much worse the gamesmanship will become with growth models.

    And you guys who believe in accountability as the driver of reform should welcome caveats. Without them, Districts will lose one court case after another. After all, when the devlopers of these primitive growth models are called to testify, they will issue one caveat after another, acknowledging the weaknesses of vAMs for evaluation purposes. Then the judges will ask why those caveats weren’t respected.

    And as for his line, “Same community, same building, sometimes the parents …” don’t you feel obligated to challenge the intellectual dishonesty of that sound bite?

    You know as well as I that today’s education is a sum zero game. Even when a secondary school is fortunate enough to benefit from a real turnaround, the students who toughest challenges are dumped on neighboring schools. And that will be the case until:
    a) human nature is turned around,
    b) huge new investments are made, or
    c) we stop this blame game.

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