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Events: Notes From Yale SOM 2011

Picture 19 #somELC It was something of an "off" year for the Yale SOM education conference – not in terms of attendance or quality of the program but rather in terms of VIPs and the atmosphere of self-congratulation. Faced with charter quality problems and political setbacks and all the rest, could reformers have finally learned humility to go along with their urgency?  It wouldn't be a bad thing. In any case, there was no video greeting from Arne Duncan or even any high level USDE officials in attendance.  [Andy Rotherham complained that the USDE’s Brad Jupp had to conference into the morning session because the Administration was being “run like a Central American country."] There was no Wendy Kopp, Jon Schnur, Jonah Edelman, or even Michelle Rhee. There weren’t any other reporters or bloggers there (that I know of).   Some sort of fall-off was inevitable, considering that the previous two events took place shortly after Obama was elected and right when the hullabaloo surrounding the competition for Race To The Top was in full force. Plus a recession and all of that. 

In a positive development for a community that can be pretty insular, there were not one but two sessions focused on unions and contracts – one morning session with the AFT’s Joan Devlin and New Haven’s Garth Harries, among others, plus a lunchtime session with the superintendents for New Haven and Baltimore plus Randi Weingarten.  My small but growing list of school reform “amphibians” (those few who’ve switched from school, district, or state work to nonprofit or private sector work, or switched from labor to management):  Andy Smarick, Chris Cerf,  Garth Harries, Kevin Huffman, Sandra Scandera (NM state supe), Mike Johnston, Jon Schnur, Andy Rotherham (sort of), Brad Jupp, John King, Jo Anderson, Michelle Rhee.  

The best session I saw focused on the reform movement’s inattention to (hostility toward?) community engagement and featured some powerful insights about why reformers often find themselves fighting against (and losing to) the people they think they are trying to help. Derrell Bradford, Danielle Smith, Ref Rodriguez, and Michala English lit up the room, IMO. Ellen Winn moderated.  I wish Michelle Rhee and Jonah Edelman and others who are hoping to beef up this part of the reform effort had been there to listen because I worry that they are about to make some preventable mistakes.  Reformers are beginning to understand the need for stakeholder involvement but only as an afterthought not from the start (Danielle Smith/ BAEO Connecticut)

Other things I heard, thought, saw below the jump. TLDR?  Twitter feed here.

OPENING:  Mike Johnston veered from his usual stump speech to make the case that the most powerful rationale for integrating schools isn’t that it’s good for the kids or the world but that it alters the conversation about educating poor minority kids when more of those making decisions know and grew up with some poor minority kids.  It is a pretty interesting way to juice up the old timey integration argument.  Johnston is clearly grappling with the politics of school reform, about which other reformers should also be grappling instead of doing the safe thing (keeping their heads down and expanding their programs, which I call the Red Envelope problem).

DISTRICTS:  If New Haven 2009 led to 2010’s DC and Baltimore – where’s the next big city “reform” contract shaping up? Or will budget cuts and layoffs prevent any real changes from being implemented?  (No, ending LIFO doesn’t count.) Is the collaboration between New Haven and its charters over professional development and leadership support as substantive as Garth Harries makes it sound, or just window dressing?  Thin contracts are so 2009 – barely mentioned, and only as a relic of the past. 

CHARTERS:  Despite nearly 20 years of frustration and failure, most reformers are still stuck in a Democratic Party-approved mindset that allows charters but prohibits vouchers, scholarships. The parent trigger is too hot for the school reform crowd, whose silence on the matter is pretty apparent.  When professionals do reform to a school -- a charter conversion, for example -- it’s one thing.  But when parents do it to their own school it’s apparently another (even when the parents are organized by a professional organization).Why do reformers remain so focused on charter schools, anyway?  “There ain’t nothing else.”  (A charter advocate)  Plus it would seem strange to tell talented people to stop doing something they wanted to do – and would lessen pressure on districts and unions to make changes. “I don’t make the performance argument anymore.”  (A charter advocate).  Meanwhile:  “There are only two kinds of schools – good ones you want to send your kids to and bad ones you don’t.” (Derrell Bradford/E3).  Stop calling them charters – call them autonomous schools instead.  It’s clearer and it translates in Spanish (Ref Rodgriguez/former PUC founder)

TEACHERS/UNIONS:  Others clearly disagree but my take is that ending LIFO is not an easy win or going after low hanging fruit.  It goes to the very core of teachers’ conception of collective bargaining, and represents a late-game rule change that nearly anyone would oppose in any other situation. My latest proposal re seniority layoffs (an addendum to the Marshmallow Test For Young Teachers:  modify LIFO in exchange for a four-year commitment from TFA classroom teachers and a ban on graduate school applications during that period. Meantime, Educators 4 Excellence opposes publishing individual value-added ratings (Sidney) So there’s at least one issue upon which they and the UFT agree. Teachers in New York City are a minority in their own union, with little chance of wining leadership seats away from older members or from other nonteaching members who dominate the voting (Evan Stone/E4E).  It’s not just about the kids or the adults – it’s about the adults working on behalf of the kids (Randi Weingarten).  My version:  “It’s not about the kids.”

PROGRAMS:  Think of Pioneers (now 350 alums and seven cities) as a sort of Broad program for career-changing twenty-somethings (Jason Weeby).  The national turnaround effort needs to reach out to districts and minority school leaders who’ve been doing turnarounds for years but just don’t call it that (Justin Cohen).  The 30 year old Toledo peer review program is being dismantled, according to the AFT's Joan Devlin, despite only having three full time staffers.

MISC:  Alex Johnston (no relation) sounds like an old school radio disc jockey (or the homeless Golden Voice guy).  “I don’t mean to pick on you” is conference talk for “I’m about to take you down.” Wristwatches are so unfashionable at this point it’s sort of startling to see them.  Can’t wait for them to come back as a retro fashion item or wristy smartphone. No one cares about implementation (state official working on RTTT) Bad hashtag selection (somELC) -- I liked last year's YaleSOMed better because, well, it had the name of the school.  

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Alexander: you write that the " best session I saw focused on the reform movement’s inattention to (hostility toward?) community engagement and featured some powerful insights about why reformers often find themselves fighting against (and losing to) the people they think they are trying to help."

I would love to hear more about this session, what was said, and why the "reformers" think they are too often opposed by parents and community members. Those of us who are parents believe that this is not just a matter of tactics but of goals.

Hi Alex -

It was great to meet you on Friday. Can't wait to read your book.

Just a quick correction: Education Pioneers currently has 911 alumni all over the country. About 70% of them are working full-time in education leadership roles. Our Graduate Student Fellowship is operated in seven cities and will add over 300 young leaders to our network this summer.

More information at www.educationpioneers.org

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