From the Field: State Updates

School Takeover is Key to Mich. Education Reform
The Associated Press
Dec. 28, 2009

“The most dramatic change in state education law will start with the listing of the state’s lowest-achieving schools by Sept. 1… The list will include roughly 170 schools… Each school on the list will be placed under the supervision of a yet-to-be-hired state school reform officer… He or she would act much like a superintendent and school board, making decisions related to both academics and finances.”

Miss. Superintendent: Give Board Consolidation Authority
The Associated Press
Dec. 29, 2009
“Tom Burnham, who will take over for his second stint as superintendent of education in January, says lawmakers should considering allowing the state Board of Education to consolidate districts that it takes over and to establish charter schools in those districts… Burnham said he is making the recommendation because ‘in my mind you don’t give it (the school system) back to the people who allowed it to fail to begin with.’ With consolidation or charter schools, he said, ‘You are creating a new governing structure.'”

District Leaders Make Moves

District leaders in both Detroit and Boston are receiving national attention for their approaches in transforming chronically low-performing schools. Last night, Boston Superintendent Carol Johnson unveiled her plan to restructure 14 of the city’s lowest performing schools. The schools will either receive massive overhauls or be closed. A few of the schools were ordered to close last year, but were given an extra year to improve after public outcry against the closures.  

Detroit’s been in the turnaround spotlight for few years now, as a large portion of the district’s schools (and the majority of the district’s high schools) are in need of dramatic change. Barbara Byrd-Bennett responded to the challenge and continues to fight the battles in the district.  As Byrd-Bennet continues negotiations with the Detroit Federation of Teachers, education reformers across the country will be watching to see what comes out the other side.

Leaders vs. Laggards

The Center for American Progress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Enterprise Institute recently joined forces and released Leaders and Laggards: A state-by-state report card on educational innovation. The report analyzes a variety of indicators from school management and finance systems, to HR practices (hiring, evaluation, performance pay, removal of ineffective teachers), the use of data, and the environment for state reform. The report doesn’t focus on under-performing schools, but our experience has shown that barriers, inefficiencies, or restrictions at the state and district levels are magnified in those persistently chronically under-performing schools.

Several places implementing a variety of reform efforts and piloting innovative programs are highlighted, but it’s clear that the majority of districts and states continue to work under restrictive policies and archaic practices. The report’s methodology, and the use of (and exclusion of other) indicators, has resulted in a bit of noise from various stakeholders. But, even with these cautions, the report forces us to ask the right questions.

We have the research and the data to show that many policies and practices aren’t showing results, and we have the Race to the Top and the Innovation Fund competitive grant programs to spur innovative growth — now the question is: will education leaders take the steps and gather the political courage to make the changes that are so urgently needed?

For more information, read EdWeek’s analysis of the report.