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Putting the Ill in Illinois

Illinois’ education blob is giving themselves a pat on the back. Their “collaboration” helped pass a bill, almost unanimously, that institutes some form of teacher evaluations based on “multiple measures” yet to be defined, and changes tenure rules, slightly. There are longer school days, strike rules requiring 75 percent of teachers to agree, but not much more. There’s not much here that helps students immediately, or parents, but makes it look like it does. Indeed, the back patting seems to be more about how it was done, not what was done.

Says the press propaganda:

“Unlike our neighbors in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states, stakeholders here worked together to craft an aggressive bill that makes our state the leader in education reform. At a time when many teachers understandably feel under attack, this bill celebrates effective teachers, recognizes their accomplishments and helps keep them in classrooms.”

We’re so glad that no one had to flee a state to keep from voting on major changes to education. Maybe that’s because there was nothing really to flee about, no controversy, no major changes. Time will tell, but a rose by any other name is not a rose. And this bill is not reform.

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Obama Administration Flips on School Vouchers

WASHINGTON, DC – In a stunning turn of events, the Obama Administration today reversed course on the issue of school choice and vouchers, detailing an ambitious plan to create national school choice options through a competitive grant program for states.

“Unfortunately, I had not actually sat down and read the research on school choice and achievement for myself,” Obama admitted during a press conference this morning. “I trusted the counsel of those who supposedly had. I can admit when I am wrong, and in this case, I see that offering options to parents is not only changing lives, but, on a large scale, can lift our entire school system to new heights. That’s exactly what this White House is all about.”

Joined at the podium by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the President outlined their proposal to launch a competition that, like its predecessor ‘Race to the Top’, asks states to collaborate with stakeholders to win gobs of cash. Only, this time, according to Duncan, “the stakeholders will not be teachers unions and school boards, but parents and students. We screwed up last time and relied on the input of those we thought had the best interests of kids in mind. We wanted urgency. What we got was a pile of promises that have not only been sitting in limbo for over a year, but in some cases abandoned entirely.”

Duncan also revealed that no outside consultancy would be accepted to boost the chances states have to win. “For ‘Race to the Top’, my staff was reading the same application over and over again. Only the state names changed.”

To prove his point, he brought up the winning applications of Maryland and Hawaii. “Honestly, we were just flipping coins at the end,” he said.

Details of the plan are still being put in place, but

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Borrowed Time

clock(Originally posted to the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog)

The common theme running through many (too many) teacher evaluation proposals is time. We need time to create new evaluations. We need time to observe a teacher (after taking the time to build them up). We need time to create a plan based on our observations. We need to give them time to prove they can get better (or not). We need time to figure out if they should be doing something other than teaching.

The problem with ‘borrowing time’ is that no one wants to quantify what that means – how much we need, how soon, and whether we really even need more to begin with.

Before ‘Race to the Top’, states grappled with the notion of paying teachers based on performance, and some attempted modest measures, but most fell short. ‘Race to the Top’ further encouraged evaluation systems, but guidelines conveyed no urgency and states needed simply to promise changes. Evaluation systems adopted have proved fuzzier than many originally thought. Now with budget struggles in states and more understanding that first-hired/last-fired policies actually harm kids (what a discovery!), state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing hard to put hard, firm measurements with consequences in place…

Read the entire post HERE.

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An evening ON PUPOSE

on_purposeAre great schools made ON PURPOSE?

Samuel Casey Carter seems to think so in his new book, On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character.

On Purpose introduces readers to the teachers and school leaders who will stop at nothing to see the lives of their children changed for the better,and the children whose futures are brighter because they attend schools with cultures designed on purpose.

Want to learn more?

Then please join Casey, Jeanne Allen and Checker Finn on February 16th in Washington, DC for An Evening On Purpose.

Click here for details and to register.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Looking forward to 2011

champagneWasn’t 2010 supposed to be the Year of Education Reform? ‘Race to the Top’ was going to transform the education landscape, ‘No Child Left Behind’ was to get a facelift, school turnaround options were going to transform our lowest achieving public schools…

How’d all that work out for everyone?

– Maryland and Hawaii winning ‘Race to the Top’ money? For what, exactly? They’ll be battling their unions until 2015 just to move the dial slightly on any of their promises.

– ESEA reauthorization during an election year? Good luck.

– At least we learned a few things about turnarounds, namely that they aren’t going to work unless the culture of a failing school is turned on its head.

Before we get accused of ending a year on a sour note, though, allow us to throw ourselves into the group of hopefuls looking to 2011 as a year that gets things done for our kids and for our schools.

Why the positive change of heart, you ask?

November.

Beginning next Monday, a new Congress just might leave substantive education policy decisions in the hands of those who have been getting the job done all along – Governors and state legislators.

And so, we end 2010 as many began, hopeful that substantive changes will come to our schools in the form of greater choice for parents, real rewards for our best teachers and accountability for those who steer the ship.

To help this process along, we offer up these 10 Education Reform New Year’s Resolutions for state lawmakers:

1. Increase the ability of higher education, mayors and other independent entities to authorize charter schools so more children have access to quality public school options.

2. Eliminate arbitrary and unnecessary caps on the number of charter schools that

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Welcome aboard

rollercoasterDear Michelle,

Welcome to the other side. We need your help. And we need new champions. Learning to tell the difference is an art, though, not a science.

This is the place where – in order to make good calls that benefit reform – you have to distinguish incessantly between what someone says they believe and what they truly will do. We at CER do not spend money on politics, but we do spend our time and energy on educating and activating people to do the right thing. Oh sure, reform is very much in vogue right now, and hundreds of people will crowd a ballroom to hear someone speak. They will applaud and nod approvingly at every word said in defense of students, and in support of a fight to change the status quo for good. Then they will go back to their states and communities and say things like the following, which we’ve heard for 17 years, as if a 45 were scratched so it keeps repeating…

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Charting a course for reform

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s terrifically honest keynote address at this year’s Excellence in Action National Summit in Washington, DC:

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All in the family

duncannea(originally posted on Politico‘s The Arena blog)

Unpopular positions? Tough love? The teachers unions want you to believe they are being punished by the president’s policies. It makes for great copy and provides cover for both the unions and the Education Department as they manipulate Capitol Hill for a second multi-billion dollar bailout. But the truth is, it’s all in the family.

The administration’s education policy, including the “Race to the Top” initiative, has been easy on unions and their members. States have received money for saying they are going to factor performance into evaluations, when in reality to make meaningful performance pay work, you must either require performance to trump local union contract provisions or change the contract itself. Additionally, districts have been paid money for saying they will turn around failing schools. No one in the status quo is hurting or being forced to change very much because of what the president is saying. The talk is good and strengthens reformers’ hands, but the teachers unions won’t feel any discomfort until someone or something cuts into the lock they have on how schools operate and how policy is crafted.

Read the entire post over at The Arena

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The sky is falling

dontchangeIf you’ve picked up a newspaper or turned on the evening news lately, it’s been all doom and gloom for schools, teachers and the future of American education.

First, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) tag teamed behind Education Stimulus 2.0 in a hearing on the ED budget, claiming that another $23 billion is “absolutely necessary” to save up to 300,000 teacher jobs, proving that everyday is Christmas for the unions (I guess last year’s $100 billion just wasn’t enough).

Then the NEA asked us to remember the children.

Tons of federal money + jobs + children + tears + zero historical context = Media Tsunami

Former CER colleague Neal McCluskey, however, actually grabs the data and puts it all into perspective:

For one thing, in 2007-08 public schools employed more than 6.2 million people; even the 300,000 figure is tiny compared to that huge number.

More importantly, preceding our schools’ few recent years of financial woe were decades of decadent plenty. According to inflation-adjusted federal data, in 1970-71 Americans spent $5,593 per public-school student. By 2006-07 we were spending $12,463 – a whopping 123 percent increase that bought lots of teachers, administrators, and other shiny things!

And, he points out, it hasn’t bought the student achievement demanded or intended.

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