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New York Daily News

 

De Blasio And Farina Should Call A School Reform Truce

December 31, 2013

By Charles Upton Sahm

Rather than continue the bitter battle, they can chart a unifying third way

Bill de Blasio’s decision to name experienced educator Carmen Farina as schools chancellor received praise from both Success Academy charter network founder, Eva Moskowitz (albeit with a caveat) and the influential education historian Diane Ravitch.

Could this rare moment of comity between one of the most prominent education reform voices and one of the reform movement’s harshest critics herald a new era of collaboration? For New York’s kids’ sake, let’s hope so.

Education, like so many issues these days, has become needlessly polarized. People of good will who have dedicated their lives to improving public education have somehow become separated into warring camps: the “reformers” who favor accountability and competition and the “broader, bolder” folks who want strong community schools that nurture "the whole child."

But this is a false choice: “reformers” want children to have the support they need and be exposed to broad, rich curricula; and most “broader, bolder” supporters agree that the teachers matter and that unions have often gone too far to block efforts to weed out the bad ones.

There is a lot of common ground between the two camps. Here are some quick ideas on how to carve out a new reform model in the sensible center:

Charter schools. The de Blasio administration should drop its anti-charter plans and rhetoric. Charter schools are public schools, and the best of them are transforming the lives of the disadvantaged young people de Blasio built his campaign around. De Blasio and Farina should visit the city’s best-performing charters and ask: How can we incorporate the basic tenets of those schools in all schools? Charter operators also need to do more to end the charter/district divide.

Teachers contract. Teachers should get raises in exchange for more flexible work rules and a longer school day. To find the money: put a one-year limit on the time teachers can remain in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, eliminate the salary bump teachers get for obtaining master’s degrees (which, research shows, have no impact on effectiveness), and make modest changes to pension accruals to raise take-home pay and make the system fairer.

Accountability. The school report cards and new teacher evaluation schemes are far from perfect. Farina should experiment with different measures of teacher and school effectiveness, but be careful not to turn the clock back to a time when accountability was an empty word. The current structure is better than what existed five years ago, when principals were legally barred from using test scores to evaluate teachers — or 20 years ago, when the Board of Education couldn’t provide basic data an no one was held accountable for anything.

Curriculum. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the Fariña appointment is that she is a pedagogical “progressive” and supported the “balanced literacy” curriculum designed by Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins that delivered subpar results, especially for poor kids. (Joel Klein recently said it was his biggest mistake as chancellor.) To implement the higher standards of the Common Core, the state and city have made better curricular choices. One hopes that she won’t reverse the new focus on employing sequential, content-rich curricula that have proved effective.

Pre-School/After-School. No one argues against preschool or after-school programs. The question is how do you ensure that they are high-quality and not just a waste of time and money. One way is to ensure that the de Blasio plans include charter schools, which are currently prohibited by law from offering preschool services.

By looking honestly at what has worked and what hasn’t during the Bloomberg era; by softening the rhetoric, but not the pressure on principals and teachers to deliver for children; by finding ways to create stronger ties to communities and parents without resurrecting the old bureaucracies; de Blasio and Farina can usher in a new era of reform: one that is built upon cooperation and collaboration. It’s time for a truce in the ed wars.

Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/de-blasio-farina-call-school-reform-truce-article-1.1561787

 

 
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