Entries by Jim Stergios

Grossman wants to look squarely at reality

The treasurer’s call for a cut in the pension’s rate of return on its investment portfolio reflects his desire to look reality squarely in the face. While investment history from the mid-80s is higher than 8 percent, investments over the last decade have been well below that target, and the market continues to be plagued with uncertainty and real structural questions. The treasurer’s call to reduce the expected rate of return is also prudent planning, because the years in which the state doesn’t meet the benchmark are usually the years in which we can least afford to kick additional money into the fund. Rhode Island’s general treasurer Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, started out similarly, seeking a reduction from 8.25 to […]

The right reform path in Lawrence?

There are two issues that matter in K-12 education – what you might call the twin achievement gaps, those between the inner city poor (often including English language learners) and the rest of the state, and the international achievement gap whereby the percentage of students who are advanced in core subjects in the top-performing countries far outstrips the percentage among Massachusetts students. The second achievement gap is urgent; the first is an emergency and has to be treated as such. Ground zero for the emergency achievement gap is the city of Lawrence, where the public schools have been in free fall, where the previous superintendent has been convicted, where dropout rates are approaching 50 percent (not a typo), and where […]

Happy 100th Birthday to Milton Friedman!

Happy Birthday to Milton Friedman, who would have been 100 today. A great way to understand Friedman’s contribution to the field of education can be summed up in the following series of videos associated with his renowned Free to Choose series on PBS. This series of six YouTube segments covers (in the first three) the actual documentary/commentary of the Free to Choose on the idea of scholarship vouchers for students to attend K-12 schools, as well as a fantastic roundtable debate on the then controversial idea. The FTC special on education opens up with a look at a Hyde Park school that was in the 1980s already plagued by the need for uniformed police, metal detectors, and other safety features. […]

Will New York make Boston Old Tech City?

Neil Swidey had a wonderful article (N.Y. vs. Boston: The endgame) in the Boston Globe Magazine on the fabled Boston-NY (or is that NY-Boston) rivalry delving into the ever-timely question: “Where did all this nonsense begin?” What most intrigued me was his reference to New York’s plan to take “Roosevelt Island and a decrepit hospital that offers priceless views of the United Nations and the Chrysler Building” and turn it into “a new tech-focused graduate school that, in many ways, will be built in the image of MIT.” Swidey’s set-up is pitch-perfect in noting the pride Greater Boston takes “in our identity as College Town, USA, the egghead capital of the nation, anchored by Harvard and MIT and fortified with […]

Are teachers changing their unions?

The recent deal brokered by Stand for Children with the Massachusetts Teachers Association (and at the end supported by the AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation for Teachers) made some progress in making student performance a larger consideration in evaluating teachers and lessened the role of seniority. The Globe editorial board put it this way: Stand for Children was plowing ahead with a tough ballot initiative that would have eliminated nearly all aspects of teacher seniority in the state’s public school systems. It went so far as to put non-tenured teachers with three years or less experience — so-called provisionals — on par with the most senior teachers during layoffs. With the 107,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association gearing […]

The obvious lesson for innovation schools

Two-and-a-half years have passed since the passage of the reform law (“An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap”) that will, over time, double the number of charter school students and established a new category of in-district reform called innovation schools. (The law also made virtual schools possible, but the state’s department of education decided two years ago to tie a few regulatory double-knots on that type of reform, as I’ve blogged here and here.) In districts where MCAS scores lagged in the bottom 10 percent statewide, the cap on the number of number of students who could attend charter schools was doubled from 9 percent to 18 percent. We saw an increase of 16 charter schools in year one and […]

The SCOTUS ruling’s impact on education policy

Internet traffic has been especially heavy for the past 32 hours as people across the US are trying to understand just what the decision yesterday by SCOTUS means. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an extremely complex piece of legislation famously weighing in at well over 2,000 pages and already a couple of years into implementation leading to thousands more pages of regulations and guidance to fill in the gaps left to the U.S. Health Secretary Sebellius. As people learned the news yesterday, of course, some had extra pep in their step; others required pepto-bismol. Such high-profile ruling with broad implications for federal-state relations is bound to touch on education policy — and it does. The discussion of the Commerce […]

Making more than symbolic change in our schools

Today’s lead story in the Globe relates the three years of “reform” by Sito Narcisse at English High: An extraordinary three-quarters of English High’s teachers and administrators have quit or been let go during the past three years, school records show, as headmaster Sito Narcisse pushed through one controversial initiative after another — from school uniforms to single-sex classrooms to eliminating the grade “D,” forcing students to earn a “C” or fail. Teachers who did not go along with Narcisse’s approach were “not the right fit,” in his words, and he sent 38 of them packing, while dozens of others retired or resigned. Given the continued drift in the school’s MCAS scores and observations of kids napping in class and […]

Falling short on the Lawrence school turnaround

In November 2011, the Board of Education decided to put the city of Lawrence’s public schools into receivership. With that announcement the power to install a receiver for the district was given to the state’s education commissioner. The January appointment of Jeffrey Riley as receiver by the Education Commissioner was well received. Riley has experience as a Teacher for America and also as a principal of a challenging school. His work as the Chief Innovation Officer in Boston’s schools was marked by a steady but persistent push for change. So, yesterday the receiver and the commissioner made public the state’s turnaround plan for the Lawrence Public Schools today with fanfare and much talk about urgency. The Lawrence Eagle Tribune lists […]

A big test at Madison Park Vocational

Over the past decade, while there has been incremental success in most suburban schools, and limited incremental success raising achievement in a few urban school districts, the big stories in raising student achievement have come in the state’s 70 or so Commonwealth charter schools and its 27 regional career-vocational technical schools. Currently, there are 63 CVT schools in the Commonwealth with about half serving regional populations while the other half is under the direct jurisdiction of larger districts. The regional voc-techs have many similarities with charters: They operate outside the direct control of a single district superintendent, and in fact have their own dedicated leadership (superintendents and elected school committees); they are schools of choice; they are highly focused on […]

Perspectives on the Romney education plan

A round-up of various perspectives on Governor Romney’s education policy announcement yesterday. I’ll post later on today to help you navigate through the noise, but it is always good to have a broad set of perspectives when big announcements are made. Here is the full education “white paper” entitled A Chance for Every Child and a list of the Romney education team. Here is a transcript of Governor Romney’s speech before the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit in Washington, D.C. From today’s Boston Globe, here is Matt Viser’s article. The Wall Street Journal‘s video take below: Trip Gabriel’s take in the New York Times. And Paul West of the LA Times. Crossposted at Boston.com’s Rock the Schoolhouse. Follow me on […]

The wrong lesson on national standards

Dear David, Congratulations on becoming the new head of the College Board. I know, as a Founding Father of the national standards effort, you may have read certain things I have written that you do not agree with. While I haven’t met you personally yet, I look forward to it. I have heard universally that you are a smart guy and reputed by all to be a nice person. I hope you and the Coleman family are well, and I am writing to say I’m sorry. In addition to writing about school innovations, charter schools, vocational technical schools, school choice, accountability to results, and teacher quality issues, I’ve written with some frequency about academic standards and curricula—and especially recently about […]

Decision time on extended learning

The Education Reform Act of 1993 was a complex piece of legislation but its principal components are four: High academic standards for K-12 schools; Accountability through the MCAS test and a state office that performs audits on schools and districts; Improved teacher quality through rigorous testing of teacher’s mastery of the content in the state’s academic standards; and Expanded public school choices for parents through charter schools. The subsequent history of education reform in Massachusetts has been an ebb and flow of implementation of these elements. It took until 1996 for the state to truly embark on any of the first three reforms listed above (and it took a long time and lots of public debate to move them ahead–one […]

Massachusetts’ Katrina Moment

In a previous job, I spent a lot of time in major Massachusetts cities outside of Boston. Cities like New Bedford and Fall River, with their stunning coastal views, and cities at the edge of Boston with so much potential like Lynn and Brockton, always intrigued me. But I have to admit to two favorites–Springfield and Lawrence. They are indeed among the most troubled, but they are both architecturally unique, with strong neighborhoods and muscular industrial histories. Whenever in Lawrence, I would try to make it to Saint Anthony’s Maronite Church or eat at Cafe Azteca. The smells in each place are enough to keep you going for days. A sensation similar to the “beignet haze” you get walking within […]

Not grateful about “charter cap lift”

The 2010 Achievement Gap bill that was passed by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by Governor Patrick lifted the limits on charter schools and the number of students in them in districts that were failing to see improvements in student achievement. Rather than limiting the number of students to 9% in these largely urban districts, the law allowed up to 18% of students to attend charter schools. The six-year period for the expansion up to 18 percent of students was not coincidental. It aligns with the six-year reimbursement schedule for districts, by which districts: • receive 100% of the per-pupil funding for in the first year after a student leaves for a public charter; • […]

How are the Rural Poor Doing at School?

Massachusetts is a wealthy place. We are among the wealthiest states in the country, and the educational attainment of Massachusetts parents is well beyond that of parents in every other state. All this should point to high-powered students and schools in the Bay State. In fact, “big thinkers” in education policy often point to those factors to explain why Massachusetts does so well on national and international assessments. In part, that’s true. But what these big thinkers fail to see is that Massachusetts not only has risen from around 11th in the country on the national assessments to number one, but also that the performance of all Massachusetts student groups has gone up. In fact, Massachusetts’ improvement in performance among […]

Romney and Obama tussle on education

So let the games begin. Finally, the presidential candidates may get to education. For the greater part of a month, the presidential candidates have been sizing each other up, jabbing each other on jobs and the economy, who’s more in touch with the average voter, and all sorts of distractions like who is waging that war on women and whether the president should play politics with foreign policy (as if that’s anything new). Given that education is a key factor affecting the country’s ability to create jobs–and that it is one of the key sectors of public employment–you would have thought that education would have made the dance card a little earlier in the process. But no. Finally, we have […]

Self-dealing among education officials

I’m conflicted about how to say this. Getting stuff done is about building relationships and trying to find ways to get along and in fact pulling the right people together toward a goal. But it is also about saying things straight and pulling no punches when what’s being debated matters a lot. I often write about education standards because, unlike some other ed policy choices, standards impact the entire landscape of education. If used effectively to drive reform, they set the contours of classroom content, they constitute the basis for student tests, and they define the basis for teacher tests that ultimately play a bigger role on the quality of teaching in the Commonwealth than any professional development program afterward. […]

Conflicts of Interest in MA’s adoption of national standards

“No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” – James Madison, Federalist #10 In this season of US Supreme Court decisions we’re reminded that independent and objective judgment on key legal and public policy matters has been an aspiration in Anglo-America law and justice (not to mention scientific inquiry) for centuries. In America, it was John Adams in Massachusetts and James Madison of Virginia who were best at articulating the importance of independent judgment. The push for national education standards has brought to light a variety of troubling questions about the legality, cost, and academic quality that has been discussed here and […]

Food for thought on saving schools money

Yesterday, the Globe’s Deirdre Fernandes reported on the spat between Newton North High School’s food contractor and the student-run Tiger’s Loft Bistro. The contractor, Whitsons Culinary Group, was sore about the school allowing a competitor to serve food in the building. After all was said and done, the school and the contractor made up, and the student-run bistro will re-open and be able to serve students once again. There are two lessons to learn: Businesses may like to talk about the need for competition, but they never like it when there is a direct competitor. That’s why for over a year, Whitsons sought a clause in its contract that barred competition. Not much of a news flash there, but it […]

How to pay for high-quality teachers

We all want high-quality teachers, right? What are we doing about it? The state has started to push teacher evaluations across the state, and that is great. Especially great because for far too long school managers and supervisors did not perform regular evaluations, which at the very least are useful for professional feedback and growth. I do have my doubts that a bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all evaluation system is terribly useful besides the obvious fact that it will require more people to fill out paper. My doubts are practical ones. If you are running a school and seeking to peg its performance at a very high level, there are times when you want your teachers to focus on improving their individual performance; […]

Handwaving away opposition to the national standards

Periodically, over at the Fordham blog, Checker Finn does his best imitation of the cop waving traffic through at the scene of the car crash we like to call Common Core. In a post last week (“The war against the Common Core”), he morphs into good ol’ Sergeant Finn, crabbing at any observers, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along, move along.” The mishaps around Common Core national standards are simple driver misjudgment, he explains. Steering mistakes. Nobody’s breaking the law. And don’t worry, because even though there have been lots of accidents, the road ahead is not dangerous. This is classic Checker handwaving, passing off politics as policy. Let’s look at the four arguments he makes. 1. Don’t worry […]

Mandatory Volunteerism

The last decade has seen an explosion in the number of middle and high schools mandating volunteerism. I am not a fan of forcing volunteerism, and “mandatory volunteerism” offends those who treasure meaningful language. But within a set of courses and activities aimed at rounding out children so that they will become effective participants in civil society, such requirements may make sense. That is especially so if students can choose the volunteer program and not be restricted to school-approved activities. Choosing what you are passionate about is critical to being a good citizen. Clearly, such mandates are not things we impose on adults. Which is why it is so disconcerting to see the federal department of education treat state and […]

Are Turnaround Schools Just Spin?

The waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act will, as noted yesterday, have a number of effects, with three big ones being: It moves the goalposts for accountability back years (at least 2017, more likely 2024) and weakens the accountability goal (from proficiency for all students to making progress on the achievement gap) It gets rid of all of the law’s school choice and parental options, which were to kick in after a number of years of continued school failure It centralizes innovation and change strategies in Malden (the world HQ of the state department of education) The first effect listed above is a simple punt on accountability. But the last two bullets mark a move away from […]

Moving the Goalposts on NCLB

Massachusetts and nine other states made news last week by seeking and receiving waivers from major provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The waiver was never a favorite of mine but I think the way it was upended and why says a lot about the centralizing worldview of federal and state policymakers. First thing is to separate process and substance. The process on the waivers is wrongheaded—and likely illegal. Stay tuned for more on that. On the substance, US Department of Ed Secretary Arne Duncan outlined the key requirements he wanted Massachusetts to fulfill, on standards (what Sec. Duncan calls college- and career-readiness standards), instruction and leadership, and accountability. On standards, Massachusetts met the feds’ requirement […]

A halfhearted school budget

You know you’re in for trouble when a school district with major graduation and dropout rates problems announces a new budget and leads with the hiring of five new nurses. That is not the definition of urgency. The big new Boston budget of $856 million came with big headlines about more nurses and an overhaul of Roxbury’s Madison Park Vocational Technical High School. $856 million for about 54,000 students. That breaks down to almost $16,000. Of course it does not include additional funding sources and is not the complete picture. Last year’s NCES estimates pegged Boston as the most expensive urban school district in the country, clocking in at around $21,000 per student. There is an obvious problem with the […]

Chipping away at charters

Charter school approvals are granted in February. They shouldn’t be. They should have been granted on January 16th this year–Martin Luther King Day–for one simple reason: No education policy change has done more in Massachusetts to alleviate achievement gaps than charters. None. We too often hear about how education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. The fact is that education was the Civil Rights issue of the 20th century, starting with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling and the battle to ensure that all kids, regardless of race or creed, had equal access to good schools. Today, the face of Civil Rights has many colors, and the principal battleground is in inner cities, places like […]

Can employers require job applicants to have a high school diploma?

BNA, a subsidiary of Bloomberg L.P., is a great source of reporting on legal and regulatory issues that matter to businesses. In mid-December BNA shared the following item, which will be a shocker to most employers: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer’s requirement that applicants have a high school diploma must be job-related and consistent with business necessity, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated in an “informal discussion letter” posted on its website Dec. 2. I don’t know of many employers who think twice about requiring a high school diploma. The EEOC letter “does not constitute an official opinion of the commission,” but rather is an indication that at a date not too far in to the future […]

What is blended learning?

A number of readers of recent posts on virtual (or digital) learning have asked for some definitions around jargon used by proponents and experts. I wanted to share a brief video on “blended learning,” a term that you hear increasingly, especially in states where charter public schools and district schools are attempting to integrate online tools into the classroom. Blended learning is, if you will, that broad area between the traditional classroom, where you have a teacher lecturing and teaching a class of kids, and exclusive use by a student of online resources to drive their learning. The video embedded below was written by Anthony Kim and Michael Thompson of Education Elements. It is a bit dry and a tad […]