Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting outflanked?

For an illustration of just how dire our public education system is in parts of our country, consider this: Democratic mayors from traditional machine-politics cities of the Midwest, Rust Belt and the Northeast are standing up to the teachers' unions in an attempt to implement pragmatic results-oriented solutions to their towns' school districts.

During the last weeks of the term, third graders at School 58-World of Inquiry School created an oil spill in a bowl. Under the guidance of teacher Alyson Ricci, they tried to clean it up. Cotton swabs worked.

The school last year won the national Excellence in Urban Education Award, with all students meeting state proficiency rates in science and social studies. It's an exception, though, in a Rochester system where fewer than half of the 32,000 public-school students graduate on time.

Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy wants to set up more schools that produce results like World of Inquiry's. But he says the superintendent's efforts to close failing schools and open new ones have been hobbled by a school board mired in minutia. He is pushing to dissolve the elected board in favor of one appointed by the mayor and city council for a five-year test period. New York's state legislature is considering the bid.

As cities come under increasing pressure to fix failing schools, more are, like Rochester, trying to take matters into their own hands—or at least those of their mayors.

"People are desperately seeking a model that can be duplicated and used in different communities," said Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, Ill., who is considering such a move. He argues that a Peoria model—yet to be developed—is more likely to fit smaller cities across the Midwest than existing systems in larger urban areas.

The school district of Boston, where mayoral control was first pioneered back in '92 has been joined by New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago, Cleveland, New Haven, Conn., and Providence, Rhode Island which are now all under mayoral control.

Of course, giving the mayor more autonomy at the expense of school boards is not going unchallenged by the school boards themselves and their allies, lawmakers at the state and municipal levels and, of course, the teachers' unions (it has been declared unconstitutional by the courts here in California, natch).

Unions say mayoral control often ushers in policies counter to teachers' interests. Cities with mayoral control often seek to award pay or decide layoffs based on performance rather than seniority. Mayors have also pushed for the opening of charter schools, which are more difficult for unions to organize than public schools.

Once again, no where do we ever see the union concede that they may not have all the answers and how they might possibly be open to trying something different that just might be in the better interests of the children. Somehow the battle cry of "it's for the children!" is strangely absent in matters that actually effect the children.

Please read the article where they go to extents to explain that there is no cut and dry nor any black and white plan to reforming the district hierarchy but only a willingness to mix it up and try something different apart a culture and mindset that is failing the children of lower and working-class families.

Side note: We have taken the Republican Party to task at every opportunity for not doing enough to get out in front of education reform, particularly in way of vouchers, school choice and charter schools. Here is a situation, though, not of their making whereby the Democrats have a simple structural advantage in that the most significant education reform battles are being waged within the ranks of the Democratic Party itself and thus, the biggest proponents of education reform will be Democrats.

No matter... all the more reason for the Republicans to get off their sorry asses and engage the opposition in the education reform debate. It's doing right by the children, it's electorally-favorable with minorities and it cheezes-off the unions. Tell us again what we're missing here?

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