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What does school reform look like when the NEA agrees with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

By LeaderTalk Contributor — June 03, 2009 3 min read

When the nation’s largest union agrees to join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in their recommendations for school reform, you know things are getting hard to sort out.

I find the following news release and the report from The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce to be curious.

On March 10th, two of the nation’s leading business groups joined with the nation’s largest education employees union to announce they “urge states and the federal government to give a fair trial” to the Tough Choices or Tough Times education reform framework. Likewise, three additional states, Arizona, Delaware and New Mexico, announced that they will join Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Utah in implementing Tough Choices or Tough Times in their states.

Here is the Governor of Delaware’s press release about it and here is what theU.S. Chamber of Commerce says about it.

From the Executive summary - pages 16-17.

“Schools would no longer be owned by local school districts. Instead, schools would be operated by independent contractors, many of them limited-liability corporations owned and run by teachers. The primary role of school district central offices would be to write performance contracts with the operators of these schools, monitor their
operations, cancel or decide not to renew the contracts of those providers that did not perform well, and find others that could do better. The local boards would also be responsible for collecting a wide range of data from the operators specified by the state, verifying these data, forwarding them to the state, and sharing them with the public and with parents of children in the schools. They would also be responsible for connecting the schools to a wide range of social services in the community, a function made easier in those cases in which the mayor is responsible for both those services and the schools.
The contract schools would be public schools, subject to all of the safety, curriculum, testing, and other accountability requirements of public schools. The teachers in these schools would be employees of the state, as previously noted. The schools would be funded directly by the state, according to a pupil-weighting formula as described below. The schools would have complete discretion over the way their funds are spent, the staffing schedule, their organization and management, their schedule, and their program, as long as they provided the curriculum and met the testing and other accountability requirements imposed by the state.
Both the state and the district could create a wide range of performance incentives for the schools to improve the performance of their students. Schools would be encouraged to reach out to the community and parents and would have strong incentives to do so. Districts could provide support services to the schools, but the schools would be free to obtain the services they needed wherever they wished. No organization could operate a school that was not affiliated with a helping organization approved by the state, unless the school was itself such an organization.
These helping organizations — which could range from schools of education to teachers’ collaboratives to for-profit and nonprofit organizations — would have to have the capacity to provide technical assistance and training to the schools in their network on a wide range of matters ranging from management and accounting to curriculum and pedagogy. Parents and students could choose among all the available contract schools, taking advantage of the performance data these schools would be obligated to produce. Oversubscribed schools would not be permitted to discriminate in admissions.
Districts would be obligated to make sure that there were sufficient places for all the students who needed places. The competitive, data-based market, combined with the performance contracts themselves, would create schools that were constantly seeking to improve their performance year in and year out.”

Read the report for all the recommendations. The summary report is a quick read at 28 pages.

Evidently in this case, the NEA is now agreeing with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations that competition among schools will make everyone better as long as teachers own and run the school. These proposals are a curious mix of free market competition and state control. Hmmmmm. Evidently 6 states so far have agreed and rumor has it Indiana is looking at it too.

Mark Stock
Cross posted at “What’s Working in Schools”

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