Monday, January 10, 2011

The Rest of Kentucky's Story

Life has tossed me several curveballs during the last three months. As a result, I have not been as attentive to my KSN&C musings. My new year’s resolution is to remedy that by writing more.

So blog readers, I wish you a Happy New Year and hopefully I can provide you some thought-provoking commentary.

The “Rest of the Story”

By Penney Sanders

I was always fascinated by the late Paul Harvey’s legendary radio program which provided the story behind the story to news headlines.

As a result, I have looked for what is happening behind the scenes in education to determine what may happen next-reading the tea leaves, so to speak. The tea leaves have been most interesting recently.

It will come as no surprise that I am a fan of Michelle Rhee, the recently deposed chancellor of the DC school system. The headline story was that she resigned prior to a new mayor being elected in Washington. The focus was on how controversial she was in her efforts to reform one of the lowest performing urban school districts in the country.

Rhee showed extraordinary vision and courage in her effort to advocate for the many poorly served students in DC. She exemplified the “no sacred cows” approach to changing schools. It was to be expected that she would run afoul of the educational establishment when she made administrative changes and sought to modify teacher contracts so that poor performing teachers could be more easily dismissed.

She was amazingly determined with a spine of steel. Her efforts produced positive change for children but it certainly irritated a lot of people.

Therefore, her leaving came as no surprise. But where did she go. Ah, that is the rest of the story.

Dr. Rhee has started her own foundation/advocacy group called “Students First”. In that role she intends to continue her work to change poor performing schools with a focus on student outcomes. Additionally, she has joined Florida’s governor-elect Rick Scott as a member of his transition team. In that role, she will help him develop education policy.

Florida’s two previous governors were committed to education transformation: Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. It is good to see that Rick Scott will continue that strong commitment to educational improvement. Certainly, including Rhee on his transition team indicates he will continue a reform agenda, if not expand it.

This story would be interesting just by itself. However, buried in the education news was the announcement of a new group called “Chiefs for Change.” Five state chiefs: Tony Bennett/ Indiana, Debra Gist/ Rhode Island, Paul Pastorek /Louisiana, Gerard Robinson/Virginia and Eric Smith/Florida.

In the press release, the five indicated they will still work with the education establishment Chief State School Officers Organization(CCSO) on important policy issues, but will “push a subset of policies through the separate group”(Ed Week 12/8/10).

What does this “Gang of 5” bring to the education discussion? Each of these chiefs has exhibited the kind of thinking and leadership that Rhee demonstrated in DC. They are not establishment types. Their focus is on improving student achievement not on maintaining the status quo.

Pastorek is particularly notable because of his work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. As spokesperson for the group, he stated that Chiefs for Change seeks to “set ourselves apart and pursue a more aggressive path toward success…at the top of their agenda: value added evaluations for teachers and principals, more rigorous accountability systems based not on inputs but results; raising academic standards, and expanding school choice.”(Ed Week12/8/10).

Chiefs for Change will be based in the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group headed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Do you see a convergence here??? No screaming headlines, just several scattered news stories about an exciting and energized effort around school reform.

These players are poised to dramatically influence public policy on education over the next several years. Each of these six education leaders has battled the “establishment” in their states and now they seek to influence the national agenda.

Overlaying Rhee’s Student First initiative with Chiefs for Change and the announced agenda of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, you can see similar themes which have to do with increased accountability, measureable yearly progress and alternatives for children in failing schools.

As the Kentucky General Assembly begins its deliberations this session, it will be interesting to see how KY’s education policy aligns with the above identified aggressive, student success agenda. What will be the “rest of the KY Education Reform story”?

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