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Event Transcript
February 27, 2003


Should 280,000 New York City Children Be Left Behind? How Charter Schools Can Help

[START TAPE 1]

HENRY OLSEN: ...moment, weíre going to move on with our, with our featured speaker today. The theme of todayís gathering is No Child Left Behind, charter schools as a possible solution to the, to the educational choice mandates of that law.  Of course, No Child Left Behind is a national act with federal requirements and with federal regulations, and federal programs that are designed to ensure compliance and assist in the provision of those choice options. So it made perfect sense for us to ask the federal officials, who helped devise and will help see this through, to comment on their vision of charter schools as a solution to the choice options that the act requires. And thereís no one better within the department to talk about this than our speaker today, and thatís Gene Hickok, the Under Secretary, Under Secretary of Education. In his role as Under Secretary, Dr. Hickok is going to be and is one of the top three ranking officials and a principal advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige. I first met Gene a number of years ago in Pennsylvania when he served as then Governor Tom Ridgeís Secretary of Education, where he was both an efficient and able administrator and a man with a vision and the ability to persuade people that choice and high standards was the appropriate vision for Pennsylvaniaís education system.  His persuasive ability and his speaking ability comes as no surprise to many of his former students.  For, yes, he is that rare bird in education, a person who understands policy who also has taught in the classroom. For 15 years, he taught political science, both at Dickinson College and law at Dickinson College of Law, where he was twice awarded their Ganoe Award for inspirational teaching.  This is his third jaunt in Washington, D.C. on the policy side. In í86 and í87, Dr. Hickok served as Special Assistance in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice and in 1990 and 1991, he served as an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation where he was also a resident scholar. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Dr. Gene Hickok.

EUGENE HICKOK: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for that nice introduction, and itís good to be back.  I have not seen, I have not seen you for a long time and itís good to be out of Washington and anywhere, but particularly good to be in New York, to be honest with you. Right now, it is snowing in Washington, but donít worry, youíll get your share as I understand it. I first of all want to commend all of you for taking the time from busy careers and busy lives to talk about education generally, but charter schools and their future, their role, their potential, their promise under No Child Left Behind. When I was in Pennsylvania lucky enough to serve Governor Ridge, we were able to get a charter school law passed. It took a long time, and Iíll be glad to tell you how we did it because it was kind of interesting and Machiavellian, so Iíll be glad to answer that question later perhaps. But they began to make a huge difference almost immediately in ways that are really hard to describe in terms of changing lives and changing attitudes.  What I thought I would do is, is paint a couple of pictures for you, real briefly ask you to consider how charter schools both here in this great city and across the country, school choice or schools of choice generally might change the nature of these pictures or contribute to them, and then try to respond to any questions you might have.  The first picture, Iím sure youíve seen or if you havenít, I can take you to this place. Walk with me now just for a few moments to a fourth grade class in New York or Philadelphia, or almost any major city.  Walk with me to this fourth grade class.  Now remember, itís only a couple days really after Valentineís Day, so as you walk into this classroom, youíll notice all the colors, the Valentines and the cupids and all the cards everywhere.  You look around the room and you got all the books. Itís a bright, cheerful place.  Itís not a new facility; itís an old building, but thereís lot of promise here. And you walk into this classroom and look at the fourth graders and, of course, you canít help but smile.  I tell my staff all the time, if you ever get down, go visit an elementary school. I donít care who you are or who they are, you canít stop from smiling. And there they are, sitting at their tables, fourth graders. Because itís an inner-city school, probably about 30 of them.  Itís a crowded classroom, that organized chaos, which is elementary education, and in front of the classroom is the teacher engaged in crisis management as always.  But look at those kids, will you. Look into their eyes.  Look at the hope. Theyíre sponges. The promise, the potential, the energy, the optimism.  Even in the worst cases, in the worst places, thereís something about kids at this age and younger that just refuses to surrender. Now as you look at them, recognize that of these 30 fourth graders, 26, 27 canít read.  Are you still looking in their eyes?  See that hope?  Itís hollow hope. That promise will go unfulfilled, that potential will go unfulfilled, and hereís the real sad story.  Most of them will become fifth graders and sixth graders, but by the time they get to seventh or eighth or high school, most of them wonít be a part of it.  And so, if you go to many of our inner-city high schools, class size isnít an issue because most of the kids have dropped out. Now letís meet the teacher. Thirty years in the classroom. She loves her kids and they love her.  You know the type of teacher Iím talking about.  When she walks down the hallway, the kids run up and say, I love you, I love you, and she loves them.  Sheís dedicated to those kids.  And when you ask her how things are going, sheíll tell you with a huge smile on her face, ďWeíve had a great year. Things are going so well.  Oh, the snow slowed things down for a while, but the fact is our kids are really having a good year. Iím feeling so successful, especially when you realize where our kids come from.Ē  And just like that, and she continues to say, she doesnít realize what she said. Sheís given voice for that soft bigotry of low expectations that No Child Left Behind is supposed to be all about. Let me take you to another vision, another place.  This one you may not be as familiar with, at least the way I have seen it.  This is a suburban school district. I donít know, Long Island, Westchester, suburban Philadelphia, suburban anywhere.  You walk on to this campus, it is a campus. Itís fantastic.  Great facilities, state of the art, computers in every classroom.  Great facilities, great students, great teachers. People in this community pay a lot of money to create this school.  And theyíre proud of it and they should be.  And if you look at the test scores, highest average test scores in the state, consistently. So theyíre getting a lot for their money.  But when you disaggregate the test scores, when you look at different socioeconomic groups over time in this great school district, African-American students persistently, persistently experience an achievement gap of 50 points.  No Child Left Behind says you have to disaggregate those test scores and now for the first time if youíre a parent, a school board member, a teacher, anyone with a conscience, youíre forced to ask a question.  Are we really as good as we thought we were?  If you believe in public education, you believe in all the public.  And that achievement gap, that, that failure to help those kids represents a real failure on the part of that district.  But now it has to be addressed. But let me take you to another place.  You know, this is a marvelous country.  Let me take you to a school in the middle of nowhere, a school in the middle of a cornfield. It could be a cornfield in Kansas or Oklahoma.  It could be on a mountaintop in Alaska or Hawaii. Itís in the middle of nowhere. If you see the kids getting off the bus, youíll notice a few things. One, theyíre not carrying backpacks. When you walk into the classroom, youíll notice that theyíre combined classrooms, in this case third and fourth grade. And as you watch the teacher, youíll notice the teacher and a couple of other folks donít stand in front of the class and teach.  They walk around the classroom talking to the students. And youíll notice that the third grader sits next to the fourth grader and theyíre using computers, and theyíre learning how to access knowledge and use knowledge through the Internet.  Now they do the traditional third and fourth grade things.  Thereís a story time, thereís a playground, but, interestingly in this school, this public school, because of the emphasis on curriculum and technology woven throughout instruction, the data tells us these third and fourth graders are two grades ahead of their peers right down the hall in traditional classroom in reading and math. And as you walk down to the next building to the high school, youíll see similar things going on. Similar things such as virtual dissection in a virtual biology lab. Similar things, again a school in the middle of nowhere where they access AP courses and foreign language instruction, from college faculty far, far away. And then if you walk over to this part of the campus, youíll notice in the classroom are medical school students.  They visit the fifth grade once a week to teach science with the science teacher, and they come with lab coats.  So every fifth grader once a week puts on a lab coat and sits in front of a microscope and learns about amoebas and paramecia. And all of a sudden, they begin to think, I might want to be a doctor or a scientist when I grow up.  Now this location, sort of an amalgam of various places Iíve seen, is in essence a charter school, a charter school district. Itís a public school that recognizes kids need to be placed before system, that buildings matter less than what takes place inside of them, and that how you teach students should reflect who those students are.  That one size doesnít fit all, that a curriculum that doesnít make sense, given the needs of students and the aspirations of students shouldnít be used.  Most charter schools, as you know as well as I do, have as full partners parents. And I should have mentioned that in this school, the parents come a long distance to participate because itís their school. Charter schools are a radical proposition. If you look up radical, it means back to the root, striking to the very root. Charter schools are taking us back to what American public education was all about.  A bunch of individuals, families, men and women, who recognize they need to provide for their children in education, and they recognize they have to find a way to do it.  American public education needs to get back to that radical proposition. Secretary Paige and I talk about this all the time. The law is called No Child Left Behind, not No Building Left Behind, or No System Left Behind.  Let me give you one more vision.  Imagine youíre interviewing to be a CEO of a major organization in a medium-sized town. Letís take where I live, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Itís where Beaver Cleaver still lives.  Itís a great little town.  I canít use that line much longer.  Most of you donít know who Beaver Cleaver was, but it just stays there for some reason.  Youíre interviewing to be CEO and youíre walking around this organization.  Youíre getting to know the people.  Youíre told that in this town, this organization has the largest budget of any organization in the town. It has the biggest payroll. So if you become the CEO, youíre going to be a major player. You get to know the employees and you find out that, in this organization, every employee is guaranteed their job after three years for the rest of their productive lives. Okay.  You also get to learn that theyíre guaranteed fee increases, regardless of their productivity, for the rest of their lives. Youíre also told that your ability to alter that governing structure, to change the organization to fit the needs that you think it might need to fit with regard to your CEO responsibilities is very, very limited, because after all you enter an organization in which there are agreements that have been made, and you have to work within the constraints of those agreements. Now ask yourself this question.  Would you want to be CEO of that organization?  Oh, and I forgot to mention, right before you leave the interview, they tell you the very future, the very well-being of this entire community depends upon the good, smooth functioning of this organization.  I donít know if I, in good conscience, could take on such a task if I donít have the tools to get the job done.  Now I caricature a bit, but in far too many places whether itís a big city or a cornfield, thatís a portrait of American public education, and thatís the challenge. No Child Left Behind has four fundamental principles:  accountability, options, flexibility, and doing what works.  In our opinion, theyíre all equally important, but certainly the two that tend to have the most dramatic impact, the most immediately, are accountability and options for parents.  Weíve been talking about this law now for more than a year, and I have to tell you that American public educationís having a difficult time with it.  It is tough stuff.  It is not easy, and I credit a lot of hard-working teachers and administrators and officials for trying to get the job done.  But itís difficult primarily because the idea of accountability for results and the idea of options for families in schools that donít work, so fundamental to this law, are very new concepts in American education.  Theyíre not new concepts in business, but theyíre new concepts in American education. And so in far too many places, at one level I hear very positive comments and then I know that far too many principals and far too many administrators make sure that no one finds out about the quality of the teachers that their sons and daughters have in the classroom, or the options that should be available.  That will take time, but it will happen.  It will happen because, frankly, of men and women such as yourselves, not because of what we do in Washington. Itíll happen because men and women such as yourselves will make sure it happens.  Weíre engaged in the most important business we can be engaged in, creating the next generation of America.  That is our responsibility.  As citizens first and foremost, whether weíre parents or educators or business leaders, or whatever, we have an obligation to create, work with the next generation of America.  No Child Left Behind presents fantastic opportunities that will not be fulfilled if you and your fellows from across the country do not engage in this important fight.  But if weíre successful, and we will be successful, think of this.  There are kids youíll never know from places youíll never see, whose lives are better, whose lives are fuller, whose lives are successful because of what you do today. And I would argue, there could be no greater legacy for any of us than that. Thank you.

HENRY OLSEN: We have about 25 minutes for questions.  The Secretary will take and recognize the questions himself, but since we do not have microphones, I ask if everyone could please speak loudly so that everyone in the room can hear you.

EUGENE HICKOK: And what Iíll try to do is translate your question into, the question I want to answer and then Iíll -Ė Yes, sir.

SPEAKER 1: This may be premature, but how would you strengthen No Child Left Behind?  What real important things would you do to make it even more effective and more powerful than it is now?

EUGENE HICKOK: Well, one of the first things I would do, if I might be presumptuous Ė- everyone get the question, how would we strengthen No Child Left Behind -- and one thing, by the way, that the President has proposed in a budget he unveiled early in, in February, is to include opportunities for private school choice in No Child Left Behind. We have options for public school choice and for supplemental services, and those are, those are substantive accomplishments in federal legislation.  But we originally wanted to have options for non-public school choice as well.  So I think we would try to accomplish that. I think thatís very important. I would argue that another thing weíre going to do is really focus -- and believe me, Iím not interested in reopening the law, I guess Iím interested in, in further policy discussions Ė- we want to do something dramatic, dramatic with teacher preparation in this country. Now we donít have much of a say in that at the federal level, and Iím not sure I want us to. Iíve been in Washington now for two years and, I donít know, to be honest with you, but it doesnít mean we canít engage in a national conversation about teacher preparation. Because, you know, teachers enter a classroom and enter a world that is dramatically different than the one I grew up in.  And the fact is, teacher preparation hasnít changed and hasnít met the challenges.  Most, I, I just came from a meeting that the History Channel, most of our history teachers in this country, by the way, as you probably know, were hired to be coaches probably.  Most of our math teachers arenít math majors. Many arenít even math minors, but they teach math.  You cannot do that in an academic standards system where content matters more than ever before.  So I think we would really argue for really rethinking our notion of, of preparing teachers, and look at alternative certification more and more, which we do in No Child Left Behind.  Weíre big fans of alternative certification. You know what, frankly?  If we were starting from scratch, Iíd probably decrease the timeline.  This legislation gives us 12 years. Most, most argue that thatís unreasonably short.  Itís going to take longer than that.  I would argue the exact opposite.  We canít waste any time.  So those are three things that I would try to do.  I kept it short so weíd have questions. Come on now. Please.

SPEAKER 2: One of the issues that have been coming up here in New York involving parent choice is coming from both ends.  The parents who have children [unintelligible] how would you define successful schools, that they feel are overcrowded [inaudible] the issue. And on the other hand, we have parents whose children are in low-performing schools, they know it, and what they are saying is, that school is right across the street from where I live, itís in my community, why arenít the resources being put in there to improve my childís neighborhood school as opposed to my having the option to ship them across to an overcrowded school.

EUGENE HICKOK: A couple of responses. First, to make sure everyone knows exactly what the law says. I assume you do, but on this issue, schools are identified based upon their achievement scores, the test scores, and itís broken down by subgroups. So itís possible that quote a pretty good school, like the suburban school I described, that has a low-performing subgroup would be a school that needs improvement. Thatís what the language talks about, fails to make adequate yearly progress as defined by the state, not defined by Washington. Thatís important.  The law says a school thatís in need of improvement, which means it fails to make adequate yearly progress over time, over a number of years, the first option is public school choice and after it continues, public school choice and supplemental educational services.  And federal dollars help to underwrite both of those things. One of the arguments we get from those who are either opposed to the concept or at least bothered by it is that, when we allow students to exercise the choices and federal dollars help to pay for that, the building quote the school is losing those dollars. My response to that, to be honest with you, to be very honest with you, is so what. This isnít about buildings; itís about students.  And, and so when I hear an administrator complain that he or she is losing money, a Title One money, because kids are leaving his school, my response is, so what and what are you going to do about it.  Thatís the idea.  If you donít want kids to leave, then improve the school.  We do two things in this country with, with schools that donít work.  We close our eyes to the problem and we spend more money. Itís ludicrous. This is a law that says there are consequences that help kids and consequences that deal with schools that donít work. The other question that I think youíre touching upon though, is the capacity issue, and, and the law, and the federal regulations that we put together to interpret the law, in essence, take capacity away as an excuse. Now remember, the law talks about district capacity, LEA capacity. Itís not building or classroom capacity.  There are obvious constraints:  fire code, safety code on the capacity of a classroom, the capacity of a building.  But all weíre saying with the law is, maybe not overnight, this is going take some time, but that canít be a rationale to limit choice.  And it also happens in, in, you know, very rural areas as well, where choice would only be an option if I got on a bus and traveled for 40 minutes or 40, you know, 40 hours or whatever, 40 miles.  And our argument to that is, figure out some other ways to provide choice.  Schools and schools, charter schools, cyber schools.  The issue here is choice.  It doesnít have to be another public school.  The other argument I hear, obviously Iíve heard this before and Iím a bit passionate about it, is, well, weíve got a really good school here and while weíve got some room, the fact is weíd like to keep it small and weíre doing pretty well and we donít really want students coming from schools that donít work because we think theyíll bring down our test scores, hurt our image.  We like being known as a school that works. I find that to be outrageous, frankly. There are people who make that argument and they make it for a variety of reasons and, to me, that is just outrageous.  This is not about how good a school looks; itís how well kids are doing.  And we need to be passionate about that.  Please.

SPEAKER 3: [Inaudible] [off mic]

EUGENE HICKOK: Yea, we have, I canít tell you the exact amount of money, but we have, this is our third budget we just presented to it, weíve had, where charter school credit enhancement is a, is a topic that weíre trying to increase funding for and weíre trying to create a pool of money to, to create opportunities for organizations such as yourselves to match funds in such a way. It is a tough fight for us, and Iíll tell you why. Every time we talk about facilities, funding, enhancement authority, most people look at us and say, we need to fund traditional public school construction first.  And so politically, itís a tougher one for us to fight. Weíre not going to fund school construction at the federal level.  That is bad public policy.  But we look at the credit enhancement and charter schools facilities and matching funds as kind of almost venture capital, frankly, which is also a new concept for the government, and something that we think is an investment that we ought to pursue. So youíre going to hear us talk a lot more about that.  We have to. We, you know, we sit in Washington, D.C. and Washington, D.C. as I understand it has more charter schools per capita than any other major school district in the nation. And I canít tell you what percentage of those kids are in charter schools, but itís the highest percentage of any major district. And theyíre the schools that are working the best.  So quite frankly, what we can do is go to the Washington, D.C. schools and, and make the argument to Congress that this is an investment we need to enhance. Please.

SPEAKER 4: Most charter schools are fairly young, a couple of years old, and new schools even those with a lot of promise sometimes canít [inaudible] the time to get their [inaudible] together [inaudible].  Iím a bit worried about the adequate yearly progress requirements and all that that entails. I was wondering whether there are prospects for any kind of grace period for these schools, such as charter schools, to be able to get their [inaudible] before theyíre immediately judged perhaps too early [inaudible].

EUGENE HICKOK: You know, I think sort of a mixed answer on that.  With regard to most regulations charter schools operate under in a state, thatís pretty well governed by state law. In Pennsylvania for example where the charter schools exist, if I have a charter school that has the grades where testing takes place in Pennsylvania public schools, it takes place in the, in the charter school. With regard to teacher qualifications, in Pennsylvania the qualifications are different from regular public schools and thatís not, not changed at all by No Child Left Behind.  Having said that, thatís sort of the good news.  The challenge is that charter schools as public schools still have to operate within the broad parameters of the accountability system under No Child Left Behind.  And I, I recognize that represents a sizeable consideration with regard to things like adequate yearly progress and desegregation of data, et cetera.  But I think the, the wisdom of the Congress on this was that itís difficult if weíre going to be consistent to make an exception for public schools that are charter schools. And we also think that undermines the charter schools a bit because it sends a message that we donít expect as much of you, at least initially.  And I, I think politically you need to think about that.

SPEAKER 4: [Inaudible] new schools not [inaudible] charter schools?

EUGENE HICKOK: I guess it would look, it would, it probably would depend on the nature of the, of the new school, frankly. Please.

SPEAKER 5: Isnít there a conflict of interest that the mechanism we use with all parents about their rights [inaudible].  Itís giving it to the principals of schools to tell the parents [inaudible] their schools. Thereís a weakness in there. Should there be some other agency that gives this information out?

EUGENE HICKOK: The question is, isnít there a conflict of interest or a weakness in that the law basically says to the public school leadership, youíre the ones who are responsible for telling parents about the qualifications of the teachers in the classroom, the performance of the schools, and whether or not parents have options for choice and supplemental services. I donít know if thereís a conflict of interest.  Thereís certainly a management problem, and thatís not meant to be glib, for the reasons I pointed out in my earlier presentation. The fact is, in far too many places the wordís not getting out.  Now we have a strategy to deal with that.  I think I mentioned it to you at lunch and Iíll go ahead and, and tell everyone here.  And that strategy is at the one point as Americaís voice for public education, our job is to work with public education to improve public education.  On another level, our job is to come into communities and work with community leaders to make sure theyíre the ones who make sure the word gets out. We canít rely upon the system to do it.  We know that. So youíll see all this spring, frankly, in places like Detroit and New York and Los Angeles and Dallas and Denver, every major area, a quiet but emerging campaign evolve among folks at the grass roots level who are going to try to make it their business to make it impossible for the word not to get out.  Good example. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is a great location if youíve ever been there, beautiful town, in Pennsylvania they have supplemental services provided at state expense. So it was, it was ahead of Washington, by the way. Get a grant if your child is not passing state assessments, regardless of income, to access supplemental services, passed by the general assembly, funded. Itís a pretty big deal.  Only state in the nation that was doing it.  This mother has a son whoís not getting grades, not passing tests. She wants to find help.  She inadvertently sees the poster announcing the program inside the office of the superintendent.  Not in the building, not on the wall, in the office.  Thatís how they got the word out. Once she find out about it, she accessed services. Her son now is doing fantastically well. That kind of story takes place all over the country with No Child Left Behind, and thatís one reason weíre out trying to fight the fight. It is a real challenge.  Please.

SPEAKER 6: I commend the provisional supplemental service option [inaudible]. Weíve heard this morning there are a number of charter schools where I think to a school [inaudible] longer school day or a longer school year or both, and isnít the whole effort to No Child Left Behind almost going to be defeated in, in districts that are still, that have teacher contracts that restrict teachersí ability to put more time in. Just in this district here in New York, there was [inaudible] argument about 20 more minutes of teacher time and when youíre having arguments like that and itís such a struggle to, to get more time in the classroom, to extend the day, arenít the requirements and the standards going to be [inaudible] to meet [inaudible] gets longer and so youíre going to spend two hours [inaudible], one hour. Do you, you [inaudible]?

EUGENE HICKOK: Well, thatís kind of the point, to be honest with you. If weíre good at this, the fact is one, it will be impossible to ignore failure; two, it will be easier to recognize what works and the status quo wonít be allowed to continue.  It canít. I mean, thatís the whole point.  It might take time, but the fact is with the data that will be available for the first time, the reporting mechanisms which will be out there, itíll be much more difficult for that kind of debate to go on without major change. We say all the time that nothing will fuel the call for reform more than frustration and disappointment at the local level.  And what youíre going to see, and youíve already seen it in New York, are parents who now know whatís going on should have options they donít have and want to get something done about it. And I think public educationís going to go through a real reformation down the road, in part because of No Child Left Behind. This, the notion of the school yearís going to change. Everythingís going to change.  It think itís inevitable.  I think school choice in its broadest sense is inevitable.  Itís all about freedom. But youíve got to lay the foundation in a way that is supportive of public education and supportive of a new version of public education, and thatís what No Child Left Behind attempts to do.  But it will be tough. One of the things youíre going to hear about in New York is how many schools are going to be identified for needing improvement, and thereíll be great gnashing of teeth.  And a lot of schools who think theyíre doing pretty well, that suburban school will be seen as needing improvement, itíll be many of your schools perhaps, and thereíll be great moaning, unfair, too difficult, we have a great school. The fact is, in far too many places, the data will show us weíre not doing as well as we thought we were, and that will lead to the kind of arguments youíre talking about. Itís, itís going to take time, but this is, this really is what No Child Left Behind is all about. It is a redefinition down the road of American public education, a much broader definition, we hope.  Thank you very much and thanks for what youíre doing.

HENRY OLSEN: Thank you very much for coming today.  Our conference is over.

[END TAPE 1]

 


Center for Civic Innovation.

EMAIL THIS | PRINTER FRIENDLY

Center For Civic Innovation & Foundation For Education Reform and Accountability (FERA) Conference

PARTICIPANTS:

The Honorable Eugene Hickok (Luncheon & Keynote Address)

Thomas W. Carroll (Introduction)

Eva Moskowitz (Moderator)

Kristin Kearns Jordan

Sonia Ortiz-Gulardo

David Levin

M. Christian Bender

Stacy Ward

Henry Olsen (Moderator)

Carmen Maldonado

Xanthe Jory

Daniel Oscar

Linda Sorden

THIS TRANSCRIPT HAS NOT BEEN EDITED, AND MAY CONTAIN TYPOGRAPHICAL OR PHONETIC ERRORS.


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