December 15, 2006

Report Issued, Promptly Ignored

This one is good. From WaPo.

An independent commission yesterday proposed dramatic changes that would shake up American public education in an effort to make the nation more competitive globally. The recommendations include authorizing school districts to pay companies to run all their schools; enrolling many students in college after the 10th grade; and paying teachers about $100,000 annually.

There goes three radical and expensive suggestions with no proven track record of success. Who could have possibly issued such a report:

The 170-page report, "Tough Choices or Tough Times," is the result of a year-long study by the panel, which includes New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; Joel I. Klein, chancellor of the New York City public schools; former Michigan governor John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers; Roderick R. Paige, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Education; Marc H. Morial, president and chief executive of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans; and D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey. It was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education.

A rogue's gallery of know-nothings who don't know how to educate children funded by a foundation that has taken nothing but missteps in its short history. What, no small school initiative?

The most controversial recommendations include empowering school districts to sign contracts with companies and teachers to run the schools -- which would replace schools' administrative structures with something similar to that in charter schools -- and forcing teachers to give up pensions in exchange for large pay increases.

Most companies don't know how to run schools effectively. Neither do teachers. Many charters are just as bad as similarly situated public schools, sometimes worse. And, paying teachers more just means we'll be spending more for the same results. As "radical" as these suggestions are, they are not so radical as to have identified and reformed the underlying problems in education.

Districts, they said, should relinquish control to the most highly qualified contractors, who would be rewarded for successfully running schools -- or fired if student performance languishes.

Today, we can fire administrators for poor performance, so what's the diff?

But Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, said hiring contractors to run the schools would create "a huge new set of enterprises that we have no evidence will work." Moreover, it would negate the administrative economies of scale provided by a central office and "add a great deal of costs to a school," she said. "We've seen that to an extent with charter schools."

But, if the plan would eliminate some of the self-interested nitwits, like Anne L. Bryant, who burden the system and have no incentive or responsibility to achieve results, it may not be all bad. To even suggest that there are administrative economies of scale in our current system demonstrates why people like this need to go.

Tucker said the recommendations would take 15 years to implement, but he predicted that they would result "in what will plausibly be the best national public school system in the world."

I will bet anyone any amount of money that if all these recommendations are placed into effect and everything else held constant that in fifteen years we'll have a more expensive schools system that performs just as poorly as the current one.


Anonymous said...

"Districts, they said, should relinquish control to the most highly qualified contractors, who would be rewarded for successfully running schools -- or fired if student performance languishes."

Who gets to decide success or failure? I bet they're not talking about the parents. School choice is no guarantee of success. I've seen some very strange charter schools, but that's because the our state strictly controls the "charter". You can't set up a charter school that sets high expectations. The monopoly will not allow the good kids to leave.

The big question is whether you can force anything more that minor changes on a monopoly. I don't think so. Full parental choice is no guarantee, but it's the only way.

I'll have a better idea of these forces when (because of parental input) my son's private school selects a new math curriculum to replace Everyday Math. It looks good - either Saxon or Sadlier-Oxford. The school is finally looking at cause and effect - why do parents send their kids to the school.

Brett Pawlowski said...

This thing seems to be DOA on so many levels. They want to substitute the current belief system underpinning education with their own belief system - neither side seems interested in putting proof on the table, and it's hard to make a case for change without it. And politically they'll never build the momentum to fundamentally restructure this $500 billion system.

That may be why they released it the way they did - 10 days before Christmas, nothing online beyond an executive summary, and - get this - actually charging people to read the complete report. If they wanted to build a groundswell, this was not the way to kick it off.

Unknown said...

Today, we can fire administrators for poor performance, so what's the diff?

I assume you mean the educational performance of the district or the part of the district the administrator is responsible for.

From what I've been able to observe the firing of a school superintendent has much more in common with the use of a sacrificial lamb then it does with the pursuit of educational excellence. If performance were an important consideration there'd be measurable and attainable metrics to gauge the competence of the superintendent. I've never heard of any school district, big or little, tying the superintendent's tenure to some negotiated improvement in the schools.

Anonymous said...

Parental opinion about the education system doesn’t necessary correlate with the report’s recommendations, which is really, very intriguing. Believe it or not, most parents think their child will have the skills to succeed -- even if many business leaders believe they're wrong. When it comes to math and science, American parents are actually less concerned than they were a decade ago. And when it comes to teachers, while the report recommends raising wages, our research shows that they are dissatisfied other issues. Feel free to go to for more.

TurbineGuy said...

Actually the teacher pay thing isn't such a bad idea.

Full disclosure: I am planning on becoming a teacher after I retire from the Air Force.

If you support it, I promise to never ever assign a silly "art project", cut down on useless homework, and to submit to a results based pay scale.

Seriously, this thing is as dead as the plan to convert the U.S. to the metric system.