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Articles: Reform

Kaya Henderson’s childhood in one of New York’s most affluent areas, Westchester County, could not have been more different from that of the middle school students she taught at Lola Rodriguez No. 162 in the South Bronx.

As school districts have made improvements to teaching and learning, and raised student achievement in the process, reform-minded superintendents have usually led the way. When they move on, they leave a legacy of programs and policies that have worked. That’s just where finding the next superintendent can get tricky.

School Improvement Grants

The $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants (SIG) funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have undoubtedly made a positive impact in more than 13,000 schools deemed low performing around the country. The money, which is intended to close the achievement gap, improve graduation rates and overall student achievement, will run out by the end of the 2012-2013 school year, and what will happen to these improvement efforts is unclear.

Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy, education reform

Since the inception of No Child Left Behind in 2002, Connecticut has held the unfortunate distinction of having the highest achievement gap in the nation—and the disparities are not just found in urban areas. In February, Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed a sweeping education reform bill, S.B. 24: An Act Concerning Educational Competitiveness, making 2012 “the year of education” in Connecticut.

If we as educators could successfully teach all children by ourselves, then it seems that we would have already done so. We haven’t, and that should be all the motivation to promote family engagement in districts nationwide.

Without question, America’s greatest social experiment—it’s greatest social contribution—is public education. Educate all children until the age of 18 for free? It was an unprecedented idea, but the system it led to is now broken.

I interviewed Jerry Weast last year soon after the announcement that he would be retiring as superintendent of the Montgomery County (Md.) School District. Over his 12 years as superintendent, he became renowned for his bold whole-district transformation, which included raising academic standards and narrowing the achievement gap for over 145,000 students in the 17th-largest school district in the nation. I also kept up with Joshua Starr, who from 2005 was the superintendent of Stamford (Conn.) Public Schools, a district that happens to lie next to our Norwalk office.

It’s becoming clearer by the minute that, as Web technologies open more and more doors for learners, they also pose more and more challenges to traditional thinking about schools. At the center is figuring how best to prepare students for the vast learning opportunities they have outside of the traditional education system. While the challenges are different for each individual school and district, all will be forced to come to terms with five new realities in the short term.

Michelle Rhee is back. Rhee’s grassroots organization, StudentsFirst, metaphorically descended on the state capitol in Alabama last month, ready to persuade state legislators to reform K12 education. With more than one million members, including parents, grandparents, teachers, principals and policy makers, StudentsFirst advocates for education reforms, via state or federal legislation and policies, that will improve student achievement.

For the last decade, in districts big and small, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has emerged as the largest private funder of educational efforts. This began with an initiative around small schools in the early to mid-2000s, mostly abandoned now, and has gained traction in the past few years in areas such as teacher evaluation, the Common Core State Standards and district-charter collaboration.

Education reform means very different things to different people, President Barack Obama said on a visit last March to a school in Boston. “There is no better economic policy than the one that produces graduates. That’s why reforming education is the responsibility of every American,” he stated.

An elementary school teacher at Dublin City (Ohio) Schools guides students through a group reading in class.

Principal observes teacher for 50 minutes. Principal completes checklist. Principal tells teacher what she needs to work on. Dublin City (Ohio) Schools did away with this archaic method of teacher evaluation in the 2009-2010 school year and put the emphasis on teacher self-assessment, professional learning and student-growth data after developing a tailor-made teacher evaluation tool with the help of a committee of teachers, administrators and the teachers union.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan before the president delivers his back-to-school speech in Washington, D.C.

The start of a new year is A time of resolutions and renewal, but for many of us here in Washington, it seems we can’t get rid of old baggage.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten

About 12 percent of charter schools in the United States have collective bargaining agreements with their unions, either by a state mandate or as part of an individual school’s mission. These union contracts—the first generation of such agreements—generally include unique innovations and are more streamlined, according to a new study by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). Released on Dec.

Singapore girls

If the results of the most recent international achievement tests were graded on a curve, U.S. students probably would rank somewhere in the B range.