Reforming Public Education
Based on what I've learned from a public school principal, here are a few simple things that could make a big difference in the quality of public education:
The bad news is that none of these is easy to change.Gray Davis spoke in Aspen on this subject last summer; he talked about the power of the teachers' union, and how he worked with them to create a new process to fire teachers (and principals). The idea is that if a school underperforms over a set period of time, teachers and principals are replaced. Then, if the underperformance continues, the school is shut down and reopened with all new staff, admin., everything.
I have unanswered questions: But what is the timing on this? Years? Months? And who does the firing? Principals can already be fired by the district easily, but not teachers. Principals have associations and no union support. Teachers have union support and a different process for firing so to speak.
Some better alternatives
On November 19, Dallas school trustees approved Edison to manage the 6 worst schools in the district. Edison would invest about $30 million over the course of the five-year contract, assuming it is not terminated, Roman said. The district would pay about $5,700 per student, or about $1,000 less than the current district average, he said.
Opponents of the plan say Edison does not have a proven track record and that the plan will only help a handful of students. Supporters say the program is needed to bring about academic improvement that the district is not currently achieving.
No matter how you look at it, the story is impressive. It is also impressive that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen invested $30M in Edison Schools (for 5.8% equity) and Donald Fisher, founder of the Gap, gave California public schools $25M to be used soley for Edison Schools. I'm not very enamoured of Fisher's track record on the environment, but he appears to be right on on this subject.
Edison Schools are made possible in California though the work of Reed Hastings who paved the way for charter schools. In 1997, he sold his company at the age of thirtysomething for $750 million and ran an initiative campaign in 1998 to expand and liberalize California's charter school program. This forced the California Teachers Association, which fiercely resisted charter schools, to agree to a bill that accomplished much of what the initiative would have done.
Edison Schools become charter schools, which are financed by public tax dollars but are free from most of the rules and bureaucracy that govern public schools. An article from the San Francisco Examiner paints an encouraging picture for Edison Schools, as does an article from the Wichita Business Journal.
Hastings, along with John Doerr, Brook Byers, Marc Andreessen, and others run the New Schools Fund which helps provide funding to innovative charter schools and for programs such as Success for All, a well-known program created by Robert Slavin and Nancy Madden of Johns Hopkins University that already operates in some 1,100 schools (including Edison Schools). As Doerr describes it, ''For 90 minutes every day they turn the whole school upside-down, grouping kids by ability, not grade, and focus on the most important goal: reading."