Recent Edu-Reads, For Your Perusing Pleasure

Findings from a fascinating new report on school boards are unintuitive for two big reasons. First, the study finds that, among other things, boards can have a meaningful influence on student performance, even enabling district kids’ ability to “beat the odds.” Second, the report is from Fordham(!)—a group that, like me, is generally skeptical of today’s current governance arrangements. The most interesting part is that board-member characteristics (political ideology, prior employment as an educator, level of professional development, when and how elected) can help predict the board’s effectiveness. Score one for interesting research and one for effective school boards.

Speaking of school boards, this proposed legislation in Louisiana would essentially do what Paul Hill recommended 20 years ago: stop school boards from operating schools and give schools lots of autonomy. Here, the district superintendent would function much like an authorizer. This is a step on the way to The Urban School System of the Future. But, in my humble opinion, its basic flaw is it tries to get what we want by changing what we have, instead of starting anew. I don’t trust that school boards, superintendents, and district central offices can fundamentally alter what they’ve done for 100 years. And are most of today’s principals ready to suddenly take control of just about everything the district used to do? I’ll admit to being too critical; if this legislation is adopted, have no doubt, it’ll advance systemic reform of urban school systems and do so in the right direction.

This short charter-school column by Richard Whitmire is definitely worth the read. He argues that the major political result of the recent NYC charter kerfuffle between the Democratic mayor and Democratic governor wasn’t Governor Cuomo’s win; it’s that his win could influence charter activities in other states. Why? Because Democrats across the nation saw pro-charter and anti-charter positions go head to head, and pro-charter folks carried the day. Add this to the strong bipartisan support for a strengthening of the federal charter-schools-grant program and you might wonder whether anti-charter sentiment within the Democratic Party is in retreat.

The recent “Education Insider” survey has some very interesting results. How those in the know ranked Race to the Top–winning states’ implementation efforts pretty accurately tracks my view. It seems as though mild politics plus strong state leadership equals success. Nasty politics and leadership changes do the opposite. Even more intriguing may be the Insiders’ view of teacher unions’ internal politics and the influence on the Common Core—let’s just say it’s getting complicated. Watch this space.

-Andy Smarick

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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