This is a Fresh Air episode I’m definitely going to catch the podcast of, as I think Ravitch and Rotherham are pretty solid advocates on different sides of the debate (each strongly opinionated, but well-informed).
On today’s Fresh Air, the debate over school reform and what strategies really work.
Guests: Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education. She had been an advocate of school vouchers, charter schools, testing and No Child Left Behind… and after seeing some of the results… changed her mind.
Also…we talk to education consultant and policy analyst Andrew Rotherham. He supports redesigning American public education with the help of charter schools, public sector choice, and accountability.
After Baltimore City teachers vote down contract, Alonso kills ‘em with kindness (or at least mutual respect)
Another example of how Andres Alonso in Baltimore is using mutual respect, even in the face of adversity, to improve relations with teachers and reform public education in the city schools (via Baltimore’s ABC2News).
The city school’s CEO, Dr. Andres Alonso, released a statement, which read: ‘This contract makes a historic shift in how teachers are compensated, in the district’s ability to attract and retain excellent teachers, and in the ability of schools to shape key aspects of school operations. These are essential elements of how we as a district will move forward. Many teachers wanted more information about all the dimensions of the contract and more time to digest what it would mean. I respect the seriousness with which teachers approached the vote and the importance of the questions they have raised. The high turnout for the vote reflects the importance of the contract and the value that teachers place on their work. We are committed to working with teachers until all who voted against the contract understand its benefits or we agree on other conditions that are just as necessary for our schools to move forward as our kids deserve.’
It’s difficult to imagine this kind of gracious statement coming out of the Michelle Rhee administration in DCPS—though her resignation remarks were quite impressive on Wednesday. We’ll see if the tone in DC changes under interim chancellor Kaya Henderson. If last night’s Vince Gray town hall in Ward 2 was an indication, then mutual respect may be the new name of the game.
(Previous thoughts on Rhee vs Alonso, in terms of style, can be found here)Tweet
What is Vince Grays vision?
That is the big question, and here are my quick thoughts (in as many complete sentences as I can pull together at 10 p.m.).
In the campaign, Gray made his arguments about style, rather than about changing specific policy decisions made by Rhee or Fenty. Here’s the quick blurb from the Post:
Gray has repeatedly said that he supports an ambitious program of school reform but does not think that changes depend on a single person. In aninterview with The Washington Post last week, he said that if Rhee leaves, he will seek to name a replacement who shares many of her values and not a veteran who has spent several decades in top school jobs. He ruled out Rhee’s predecessor, Clifford Janey, whose name had circulated as a possible replacement.
While I think Gray will take his time and consider young talent, I still wouldn’t be too surprised to see another reasonably big name in ed reform circles come in, such as Rudy Crew, former superintendent/chancellor in New York City and Miami, among others. On the other hand, the expectation is that Kaya Henderson, Rhee’s deputy, will be named Interim Chancellor, and she could be an intriguing candidate, with stronger D.C. roots than Rhee.
While some policy changes will be rolled back, I think some of Fenty and Rhee’s most positive and lasting legacies are the repairs made to all of the schools in the District, and the significant shortening of a maintenance backlog that had previously included broken windows that hadn’t been replaced in more than a decade in some schools. These infrastructure pieces are generally seen as a total positive (though some critics pointed out that not all schools had their repairs done as quickly as others, or pointing out differences in how the district is handling the renovations of Wilson and Ballou High Schools). A well-maintained school can make a statement to students about how much the community cares, and these facility upgrades, along with generally improved data systems, allow for more people to focus on the quality of education. I think Gray will benefit from the fact that many of these changes have happened, and that the central administration of DCPS, while still far from a high-functioning organization, seems considerably more responsive than it previously was.
As to the IMPACT system and other accountability measures put in place by Rhee, we’ll see how Mr. Gray approaches them. The $75 million in federal Race to the Top funding will lock in a few systems, at least in the short term, and changes in federal education policy will continue to nudge DC in the accountability-based direction of many of Rhee’s reforms.
While we don’t know yet how Mr. Gray’s vision for education reform will play out on the ground level, we do know that he has an understanding of building alliances and support that the outgoing administration certainly lacked, and so while he may not move as quickly as Fenty and Rhee did in the “no excuses” direction, he is also not likely to alienate the supporters of those steps by moving 180 degrees in the opposite direction, and he will also likely make some moves to keep some of the talent that was brought in with a strong inclination to help revamp D.C.’s failing schools. Those retention efforts will be critical not only from a human capital standpoint (keeping talent), but also for basic continuity of operations of this complex and important system.
On the other hand, the huge budget gap facing D.C. government for the next fiscal year means he will have to make some tough choices about what to cut, and it is not likely that he will be able to make a lot of headway in the immediate term on his campaign promise to focus on “the entire educational spectrum” from Pre-K to community college and beyond.
Michelle Rhee vs. Randi Weingarten. Heroic schools reformer vs. obstructionist union boss. In much of the media and the public mind, the national debate over education has been oversimplified into a grudge match between those two strong-willed women.
It’s not the whole story, and it’s self-defeating to think it is. That black-and-white caricature about the choices in education - recently highlighted in the celebrated documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” and on Oprah Winfrey’s television show - confuses and undermines the discussion of how to fix urban schools.
To get a clearer picture, you need look no farther than an hour’s drive north in Baltimore. There, schools chief Andres Alonso has achieved substantial educational progress through ambitious reform efforts similar to Rhee’s - but without alienating teachers and parents in the process."
I’ve had a complicated opinion of the Michelle Rhee tenure in DC, not because I’ve disagreed with many of the strategies that she has sought to instill, but because her tactical choices (emblematic of the Fenty Mayoralty) have created more problems than they solved. Maybe it’s my wonk tendencies, or maybe it’s because I came up in public affairs and media relations, but it was easy to see that despite the significant talent she brought into the DCPS system—including some great people in central admin, in schools, and in classrooms—Rhee’s success would rise and fall on her shoulders and on the shoulders of the mayor that put her into office.
I was happy to read this column (it’s worth clicking through), because I think Dr. Alonso’s work in Baltimore is really impressive, and his approach has been a big part of his success. By creating allies, the change may not seem as dramatic, but it can wind up with stronger and deeper roots. (Dr. Alonso even took part in the Baltimore chapter of “Mustaches for Kids” last year, in order to raise money for Donors Choose, which provides cash for teachers’ projects. Who doesn’t root for something like that?).Tweet
— Learning Progressions vs. Standards. From the report, “Learning Progressions in Science, An Evidence-based Approach to Reform” by theConsortium for Policy Research in Education. (via jasonflom)Tweet