New York

Obama calls for ideological truce, radical changes in education

In a speech that called for more charter schools, performance pay, and tougher state standards, President Obama this morning laid to rest some doubts that he had not yet made up his mind on several education policy questions currently dividing the Democratic Party. At the same time, Obama called for a truce in education politics, which has lately been divided by those, including Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who are pushing for aggressive changes in how schools are run and those who say that schools cannot be fully improved unless lawmakers address poverty and other roots of educational failure. He said his administration will invest heavily in initiatives that are proven to boost student achievement, such as early childhood education and home health care for young families, regardless of who supports them. And in proposing major changes to how teachers are hired, compensated, and fired, Obama never once mentioned teachers unions, regarded by some as obstacles to reform. Thanks to the stimulus bill passed last month, the federal government is authorized to spend an unprecedented amount of money on education in the coming years. Obama said his administration would offer special funds to states that want to boost their preschool quality, develop more rigorous standards and assessments, and cut their high school dropout rates. During a visit to a Brooklyn charter school last month, Obama's new education secretary, Arne Duncan, said he would support districts that want to build new data systems to track student achievement and pay teachers based on their students' test scores, as New York City has done. Without mentioning New York, the president today said he supported the same initiatives. On how some of the more controversial elements of his education plan would be put in place, Obama gave few specifics in the speech delivered in Washington, D.C., to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
New York

A DOE plan to personalize bureaucracy is making unions nervous

Eric Nadelstern heads the Children's First Network, which is set to expand. (Via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/emilyshu/2980136053/##Cody Castro##) In a quiet project that has union activists gritting their teeth with concern, the Department of Education is once again moving to reshape its own bureaucracy — this time by offering about 300 schools the option to transform the way they manage basic back-office tasks, from busing to budget planning to monitoring medical vaccinations. The change, which principals are learning about this month and which is set to begin in September, would be the third time these schools have transformed the way they work with the system bureaucracy since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools in 2002. The way operational services are handled has already changed several times since 2002. When Bloomberg first took office, 32 individual district offices — plus separate offices for high schools, alternative schools, and special education schools — managed school operations. Those were replaced by six offices serving 10 regions after Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's first reorganization of the school system, and then by a single Integrated Service Center, with five borough branches, after Klein revised the structure again in 2006. During the 2006 reorganization, instructional services were also relocated, to a group of nine support organizations from which principals now choose one. The new format would further personalize services by expanding a model that's been quietly piloted for the last two years under the name of the Children First Network. Rather than leaning on the imposing ISC for help writing their budgets and managing paperwork-heavy responsibilities like special education, the 90 schools in the Children First Network bypass the ISC altogether. Instead, each group of about 20 schools — the configuration known in all of the citywide support organizations as a "network" — works with a team of 13 staff members who do the same tasks performed by the ISC, but on a smaller scale.
New York

Mapping out exactly who reports to whom at Tweed Courthouse

The Department of Education's new organizational chart. After reshuffling its internal bureaucracy, the Department of Education will publish a run-down of the changes on its web site in the next few weeks, in the form of the following flow chart — or, to be precise, a small variation of this flow chart. (A DOE spokeswoman, Ann Forte, says small parts of the chart still need to be fleshed out, such as the labor strategy team.) The chart lays out the new internal structure of the people who work at DOE's Tweed Courthouse headquarters, with only six people reporting directly to Chancellor Joel Klein, down from a number that had been around 20. Publishing such detailed information in chart form, and on the DOE's web site, comes after critics charged the department with being obtuse about its internal makeup. Right now, the web site offers only a list of the names and titles of people who report to Klein, without clarifying how the department is organized. The last time the department published an actual chart mapping out this structure was in 2004, after a reporter filed a request asking for one. The most notable change is the new spot for Garth Harries, whose office of new schools is now folded under Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor for infrastructure and planning, under the title "system planning." John White, a top aide in the old new school office, now oversees that team, while Harries is on a special assignment to rethink special education. Here's the full chart, below the jump:
New York

There You Go Again

"There you go again," Ronald Reagan famously said to Jimmy Carter in a presidential debate during the 1980 election campaign.  Reagan later explained the memorable phrase, which arose in a discussion of Medicare, to reporter Jim Lehrer as, "it just seemed to be the thing to say in what he was saying up there, because it was to me it felt kind of repetitious, something we had heard before." Something else we've heard before is the Wall Street Journal championing the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the federally-funded initiative that provides vouchers of up to $7,500 to enable poor children attending the DC public schools to attend religious and secular private schools participating in the program.  Having gained no traction with Congress, and just a modicum with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Journal is now trying to shame President Obama into supporting the program, since, after all, he's sending his own kids to an exclusive private school. The WSJ writes that "...independent evaluations -- another is scheduled for release later this month -- show that children in the program perform better academically than their peers who do not receive vouchers."  There you go again!  You know, saying something more often doesn't make it true.  It's still true, as skoolboy has written before, that these independent evaluations -- of both the first and second year of the voucher program -- find that the children who are awarded vouchers, as well as that subset that uses them, do not perform significantly better than the control group of students who applied for vouchers and did not receive them.  One might hope that the economic whizkids writing for the Journal would understand that the statistical evidence for the claim that voucher recipients are outperforming their peers is extremely weak.
New York

Robert Bennett will step down as Board of Regents chancellor

Robert Bennett Opening the door to new leadership just as the state is planning changes to its education system, Robert Bennett, the chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, is announcing today that he will step down at the end of the month, one year before his term was set to end. Bennett's decision comes as the Board of Regents is searching for a new state education commissioner to replace Richard Mills, who announced his plan to retire late last year. The Regents have also been steering a reorganization of the state Education Department. Bennett, a Buffalo native who ran United Way's chapter there and once served as mayor of that city, announced his decision to step down in a short letter dated today. He gave no reason for his departure, but said he intends to continue his service as board member. "As we all know, there are many issues that warrant our collective attention and resolution," he wrote. "I am very grateful to all of you for your confidence and support. It has been a unique and tremendous honor to serve as Chancellor." The Board of Regents will elect its next chancellor on March 16 and 17, the date of the group's next meeting. Merryl Tisch of Manhattan, who is an ally of the Bloomberg administration, is vice chancellor of the Board of Regents. The board also includes some critics of the administration. Tisch did not immediately return my phone call this evening after the press release was sent out (at about 5 o'clock). Mills, the departing commissioner, said of Bennett: "I never found a better companion with whom to visit a pre-kindergarten or a school. He demands the best for every kid and is impatient with barriers he finds in their way." Bennett had been chancellor since 2002. Here is the full text of his letter: