Education Chat

How to Eradicate Failed Schools: A Conversation With Chris Whittle

Chris Whittle, the chief executive officer of Edison Schools Inc., and the author of a new book, Crash Course: Imagining a Better Future for Public Education, took questions on his ideas for improving public education.

How to Eradicate Failed Schools: A Conversation With Chris Whittle

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat with Chris Whittle, the chief executive officer of Edison Schools Inc., and the author of a new book, Crash Course: Imagining a Better Future for Public Education. We are discussing Mr. Whittle’s ideas for improving public education.

Oct. 12, 2005

We’re getting lots of questions already, so let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from Marty Solomon, Fayette County Public Schools, Ky:
What are the two or three most important lessons (or surprises) that you have learned through your involvement with Edison Schools?

Chris Whittle:
First, to my great surprise, student achievement in our schools is not the key thing that is on the mind of many observers. Too often, political ramifications rule decision making around schools. We were naive, at least in the early days, in this regard. Second, many believe that America has already discovered all there is to know about schooling.

Question from Patricia Jay, Teacher, Homer High:
If I’m not mistaken, we already have “principal colleges” to train administrators of public education. My question: What leads you to believe that spending time outside the classroom will improve student learning? How do you reconcile this approach with the need to provide a forum (peer centered) for open dialogue in the interest of preserving a democratic society?

Chris Whittle:
For sure we do have many colleges/universities educating prinicipals for our schools But ask yourself this question: do you think they rate with West Point, the Air Force Academy, and Annapolis? If not . . . should the country considering founding institutions of that quality for this vitally important role?

On your question of whether “student time outside the classroom” (independent learning) can improve student learning . . . . consider the impact of such “out of classroom experiences” such as field trips, internships, and, even, students spending a great deal of time working on significant papers. All are forms of independent learning . . . and many of great impact on students.

Question from Walt Gardner taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education.:
The innovations you advocate largely assume that public schools can be run like businesses. This is the same argument you made when you founded Edison Schools, which have left investors devastated. Why will your latest plan prove any more successful for stakeholders?

Chris Whittle:
Walt: There is a big difference in “run like businesses” and “run by businesses.” I don’t advocate the first of these--and believe the second can be a useful (thought not exclusive) alternative in public schools. I think it is safe to say that virtually all of the innovations considered in the book are highly specific to public schools and would not appear in businesses. One that would, however, is much higher pay for the professionals in public schools, a significant portion of which would be performance based.

Question from Nancy W. Alberts, M.Ed. President, Director Individualized Educ. Services, Inc. and its Affiliates:
How do you propose educating the public to this idea of a more corporate structure of running education in America? What is your idea of turning the responsibility over to a department at the federal , state, county/district/parish level for the transition?

Chris Whittle:
Key point: I completely believe in public schooling being CONTROLLED by LOCAL public authorities. What my book, Crash Course, is advocating is that our Federal Government should become more involved in developing new school designs which local districts might choose to adopt. The Federal Government now spends $27 billion per year on Healthcare research--but only 1/100th of that amount on R&D related to schools. We’re getting what we pay for.

Question from Monica Martin, Edison Oakland Public School Academy:
In regards to Principal Schools, would this be an establishment of your making, and how would it compare and contrast to current college Master and Doctoral programs offered in a traditional college? I have not read your book, however, I would like to know if there is a deficit in current administration that you have identified?

Chris Whittle:
I’m not suggesting that Edison Schools be the provider of such colleges/universities . . . though we would consider it if ever such an opportunity arose. And I’m not suggesting this because I see a “specific deficit” in current programs. Rather, I’d like to see America stretch to take principal development to a whole new level.

And good to hear from an Edison School teacher!

Question from Susan Hanekom, Research Librarian, Western Cape Education Department, South Africa:
It seems as if rich communities will again be the ones to benefit. How can poor communities afford hiring [effective] companies to run their schools?

Chris Whittle:
Though I know it sounds counter intuitive, most companies that are currently involved with public schools are working in communities with great need. Case in point: Edison’s student population is more than 80% children of color and more than 80% children below the poverty line, both twice the national average of those groups found in average public schools. Most organizations like Edison work with existing resources, not incremental ones.

Question from JOe Corral, Teacher, Harford County, MD:
If your techniques are so wonderful, how do you account for the mediocre performance in the Baltimore City Edison Schools?

Chris Whittle:
Afraid to say that you’ve got your facts wrong here. Please consult the State of Maryland website on school performance. What you will find is that the three Edison Schools in Baltimore have gain rates among the highest in the state AND have come from being three of the lowest performing schools in the state. Indeed, our contract with these schools was recently renewed.

Question from Leanne Hoagland-Smith, Performance Consultant, ADVANCED SYSTEMS:
When you render down the consistent inability to achieve sustainable improved performance such as demonstrated by no growth in reading scores for 17 year olds over 33 years and less than a 1% annual improvement nationally at all grades in both reading and mathematics according to the Nations’ Report Card in spite of the millions of dollars being expended, what do you believe are the first 5 critical actions that need to be take by every school district?

Chris Whittle:
I’ll do even better than 5 steps . . . I’ll just propose one. Write to your congressman and senator and say the following: “The Federal Government exists to do what local and state government (and the private sector) can not do. Said another way, if local, state, and private entities do not have sufficient scale to undertake certain initiatives vital to our country’s interest, then that is precisely what the founding fathers created a federal government for. School Board Y and State Board X don’t have the resources to conduct meaningful, serious R&D on what our schools of the future should be/look like. So . . Feds . . . get involved and quickly.”

Question from Marty Solomon, Fayette County Public Schools, Ky:
You propose paying teachers 2 to 3 times today’s salaries as part of your cure for K-12 problems. Yet, today, there seems too little accountability of teachers to do that. There is a monolithic salary schedule where scarce skills are paid the same as plentiful skill for starting salaries, where promotions for excellence are forbidden and where little if any ongoing hard evaluations are employed to weed out the incompetent teachers and encourage the marginal teachers to improve. In today’s system, a district would need to raise all salaries just to fix a problem with, say, attracting enough math teachers. Don’t you need to fix these problems before instituting higher salaries?

Chris Whittle:
A key aspect of my suggested plan to raise teacher pay in America by 2-3X is that a significant portion of that increase would come via performance. Said another way, though I think we should raise base pay significantly, equally important is to put in place VERY meaningful (not symbolic) performance bonuses. Think 30-50% bonuses over base pay, not 2-5%.

Question from Patrick Bird, Superintendent, Richmond, MI:
I think it is a very nice idea to increase teacher salaries for those doing an excellent job. How do we realistically fund the higher salaries?

Chris Whittle:
As discussed in Chapter 6 of “Crash Course”, one way we can do it is through a completely new school design, i.e. one which requires half as many teachers, but pays them twice as much. There really is a way to do this. See page 117 and also consult the school budgets later in the book.

Question from Ned Murray, Headmaster, Episcopal Day School:
There is no question that higher salaries can help attract and retain high quality teachers. But what about the current situation in which principals in most states have very little ability to truly manage (train, discipline, and/or fire) them? Where do the unions fit in your equation?

Chris Whittle:
Ned: Good question. In schools where we work, we make every attempt to provide the principal with significant discretion on the selection of school staff. As you note, that is not always possible due to a variety of agreements/regulations. Hopefully, school designers of the future will provide principals with this important capability.

On unions . . . . I do not believe unions have a monolithic position on school reform and on new school designs. In some cities, they’ve been instrumental in helping us set up new and innovative schools--and in other cities they have resisted. Overall, I think unions are approachable as new school designs help teachers as much as students.

Question from Rose Snyder,Teacher,Duval County Public Schools:
1. If students spend more time learning independently, who will supervise their learning in homes where parents are not taking on the responsibility? How will this school model accomodate their needs? 2.Where will the funding for these improved salaries come from? Doctors charge fees for their services. Teachers in the public school school systems can not.

Chris Whittle:
Rose: Key point: I’m not advocating that the bulk of student independent learning occur “at home.” Instead, I’m proposing that students work on their own within school environments, often monitored or supervised by “prefects”, i.e. older peers, similar to what you see with graduate students at the college level. Imagine a high school senior working with/monitoring 8th graders (after, of course, some training on how that should be done.)

As for where funding for improved salaries would come from,these new school designs would require less teachers, thus allowing those funds to pay remaining teachers more.

Question from Chris Drew, Ph.D. Student, Temple Univ.:
Could you describe how a student’s “independent learning” might look to an observer? That is, when it is stated that students will spend much of their time outside of traditional classrooms learning independently, how is this accomplished/guided/structured? What are they doing? What does it look like? I’m sure you describe it in your book, but could you paint a small picture for us here? Thank you, cd

Chris Whittle:
Chris: Interestingly, it would look a lot like what you see in a library. Imagine individual students reading; others huddled in small groups studying/working together; others working on their computers, doing research.

As for how it is guided/structured, it begins with a gradual orientation (over a period of years during elementary school). Students would be given increasing amounts of time on their own to work independently, but guided by their elementary teachers. As they matured, the supervision/monitoring would be provided by prefects, older students trained in that role.

Question from Paul Leslie, teacher, Lafourche Parish:
Does your plan envision a reordering of the funding process that puts emphasis upon a state’s entire wealth versus a school district’s?

Chris Whittle:
Paul: Crash Course doesn’t address this topic. It assumes that school designers of the future would work with whatever the existing resources are, city by city, state by state.

Question from Janet Winstead, Instructional Specialist - Language Arts Ysleta ISD:
1. What is the single most important issue to reforming schools with student success in mind?

Chris Whittle:
Janet: Schools, as you know, are immensely complex so choosing ONE factor as the most important is difficult. (It would be like choosing what’s the most important thing on an airplane: the wing, the engine, the landing gear? Of course, all make a plane function.)

But perhaps I can choose four (in no particular order) and here’s a stab at it:

1. A comprehensive, well-thought through “school design.” So many times, schools are a hodge-podge of this and that, picked up from years and years.

2. A great principal--one that truly understands instruction.

3. A group of “teacher-leaders”, i.e. great schools are ones that have “distributed leadership” which includes several of the most effective teachers.

4. A well-supported and highly developed teacher corp.

Question from Liz Thomas, Teacher, Public school in MO:
If a district has failed to adequately, and equitably support one or several schools within its district when do serious conversations begin about eradicating school districts? Additionally, When does serious discussion center on the holding schools board accountable for their irresponsibility and incompetence that led a school within its district to fail?

Chris Whittle:
Liz: I would point you to certain provisions of the federal NCLB act which deal explicity with your question. Specifically, NCLB requires, after a certain period of non-performance, that school governance be changed and/or that the school be restructured.

Also . . . most states have “take over” provisions related to failing schools. The extent to which these are enforced vary greatly as most states are very reluctant to intrude into local control of schools.

Question from Jeffery A. Faulkerson, Social Worker, Central Massachusetts:
Jonathan Kozol reports in the September 2005 Harper’s magazine article that the public education system is still separate and unequal. This current state results from white parents, for the most part, electing to educate their children in private schools rather than public. What are the Edison Schools doing to encourage white parents to keep their children in public schools?

Chris Whittle:
Jeffery: As you note, Mr. Kozol has a new book, “The Shame of the Nation” in which he says that our schools remain woefully segregated.

One thing that any school can do to insure diversity is to have the best school possible for all students. Parents often flee schools because they see them as ineffective.

Question from Hal Portner, Author/Consultant:
Mr. Whittle. You make a compelling case for a revamped public school system in terms of “input” such as management, equipment, and use of time and money. Your expectation, I assume, is that learning will improve. My question is, just what is your vision in terms of “outcome” ... for example, would there be changes in WHAT students learn (curriculum) and in their ability to apply what they learn?

Chris Whittle:
Hal: Yes and no. One “outcome” objective would definintely remain the same: universal literacy. America must insure that ALL children leave school literate, something we are falling far short of at the moment. (Note: NAEP says that roughly 15,000,000 students in America are below basic literacy levels--roughly the same number as 20 years ago.)

As for where we need to make changes, I suggest in the book a much more robust curriculum in terms of “life skills.” That includes things such as: health(physical and emotional), careers, finance, time-management, technology, etc.

Question from Clesont Mitchell, Eastern regional Director, National Coalition for Parents of English Language Learners.:
Parent Involvement has been a much used phrase in educational reform. Yet administrators, teachers and school districts do not understand parent involvement. How would you address assisting parents in becoming true partners in their child’s education?

Chris Whittle:
Clesont: A good place to start is INFORMATION. Consider this: you can get exact and instant information about a Fed Ex package at anytime of the day. Yet . . . most schools find it difficult to provide “real time” information on the state of a child’s progress in key subjects. If we want parents to be involved, it begins with them having a good and current picture of how their children are progressing. The systems exist to do this, but most schools don’t have them.

Question from Reen Duffy, student at Temple University Early Education Major:
Public schools are in dire need of help. The main problem is funding. For improvements to be made, money is needed; what can be done about this economic issue?

Chris Whittle:
Reen: I’m all for additional funding for schools, but, realistically, I think we need to tackle our problems with the assumption that dramatic increases in per pupil funding may not materialize.

And, there is considerable objective evidence that increased funding, in and of itself, wil not solve our problems. Per Pupil funding in the United States has, for decades, increased at well over the rate of inflation, yet student performance has remained basically flat. If funding alone were the answer, that would not be the case.

Net . . . Yes, let’s look for more funding. But, equally important, let’s find better school designs that use the funding we have more effectively.

Question from Vincent Stefanelli, Producer, Harmony Lane Productions:
Perhaps you’ve heard of George Lucas’ opinions on the use of technology for education... where kids are obviously very capable of communcating ideas and concepts through their natural abilities AS WELL AS the training that they have in visual storytelling from movies and TV - and how do you see interactive media being used in education?

Chris Whittle:
Vincent: Glad you asked. Years ago I visited with Mr. Lucas at his Lucas Ranch in California to discuss just this--and I, like you, believe we are far from utilizing this resource in our schools.

In this regard, there are two things all new schools of the future should do: 1. have a robust and well-maintained, broad-ban, wireless network and 2. provide every child with a laptop (just as we provide them with books.)

Question from Mitch Jacobson, Teacher, Sparta School System:
Why is your stock no longer public?

Chris Whittle:
Mitch: About three years ago, Edison “went private,” as it had been for many years before it was public. It is now held by a group of private investors, instead of public investors. We preferred to be private as the public markets for us (and many other stocks) were very volatile.

Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
The RAND report on Edison concludes with “no statistical significant difference” in results between Edison and comparable schools. Why should this result give us confidence that Edison schools are the hope of the future?

Chris Whittle:
Miles: Actually, the Rand report, released yesterday, states on page xxiii of the Executive Summary the following, and I quote: “Edison Schools are showing gains in the proportion of their students achieving proficiency: From 2002 to 2004, average proficiency rates in currently operating Edison schools increased by 11 percentage points in reading and 17 percentage points in math. Meanwhile, average proficiency rates in a matched set of comparison schools serving similar student populations increased by lesser amounts, 9 points in reading and 13 points in math (although the Edison advantage is statistically significant only in math.)

Question from Mitch Jacobson, Teacher, Sparta School System:
How are your Philadelphia schools doing, now that they have adopted the Edison model?

Chris Whittle:
Mitch: We could not be more pleased with our progress in Philadelphia. We just finished our third academic year there, serving 20 different sites with 13,000 children. When we began, only 6% of the children were proficient on the PSSA’s (PA’s high stakes test) and we have increased that more than 4 fold in just 36 months. The Philly district is also pleased as they just increased our number of schools by two earlier this year.

Question from Rev. Mark Jennings, Executive Director Los Angeles TenPoint:
Mr. Whittle what role do you see religous organizations playing in the bolstering of the public schools system?

Chris Whittle:
Rev. Jennings . . . While abiding by America’s constitutional requirements (separating church and state), there are ways that faith-based organizations can assist public schools--and thousands are doing so across the country. This ranges from volunteers, to after-school programs, to many more types of services.

Question from Sharon White-Scalies, Preservice Teacher WCU & Parent:
We are currently educating our children at a private school for the fourth year and are dissatisfied. We are moving our children to a charter school next school year. What do you feel is the distinction between private and charter schools?

Chris Whittle:
Sharon: Charter schools are public schools in every way. Children go there free and, in the great majority of states, charter schools do not “select” their students, i.e. like all public schools they accept all children.

A key difference in charter schools and many (though not all) traditional public schools is that every student there is there by choice.

Question from Jan Hammond, Ed.D., Chair, Dept. of Ed. Admin, State University of New York, New Paltz:
Do you feel that educating superintendents and school leaders in the area of strategic management to enhance their ability to develop competitive strategies will help schools in the future?

Chris Whittle:
Jan . . . If you are asking whether superintendents and principals need to develop “competitive skills” so that they can recruit both students and teachers in an increasingly competitive “school world,” then, yes, that does make sense to me.

For instance, there are cities in the United States which now have roughly 20% of their students in charter schools (Washington, DC being an example.) Principals in that city definitely need to know about competitive strategies.

A side point . . . this should lead to BETTER SCHOOLS. A key part of competition is actually PROVIDING A BETTER SERVICE.

Question from Jeff Reiter, retired LD teacher, Miami-Dade Public Schools; private tutor:
What do you think the effect would be on the achievement gap if all first graders would be able to read on grade level by the end of first grade?

Is this a realistic possibility?

Chris Whittle:
Jeff . . . Great question. I’m convinced (as are many others) that virtually 100% students in the early years CAN READ ON GRADE LEVEL, i.e. can achieve critical levels of literacy. And, if America did what is necessary to make that happen the achievement gap would largely disappear.

Question from Sheldon Margulies, M.D.:
People learn best when their attention is focused by an upcoming exam. Exams are great teaching tools and should not be used simply to find out who the smartest kids are. Do you see anything wrong with allowing a student to retake an exam? What difference does it make WHEN a student learns then material so long as he or she learns it?

Chris Whittle:
Sheldon . . . Excellent Question. Often in schools today, exams (or high stakes tests) are used in a punitive way, i.e. to “scold” a school by highlighting failure or inadequacy. Good teachers and principals know that the key role of assessment should be to guide instruction, i.e. to point teachers (and students) to those areas where additional work is required. So . . in that respect, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference if a student retakes an exam (unless it is something like a state test.) In our schools, we have an electronic system which allows students to quickly examine what they got right/got wrong. Same basic concept as I think you are suggesting.

Question from Kate, Springfield, Illinois:
One of Springfield’s magnet schools, Feitshans, severed its relationship with Edison Schools this year. Would you talk about circumstances in which Edison’s model may not work? Which problems are with the districts or communities, which are with Edison itself, and which are with the relationship between them?

Chris Whittle:
Kate . . . . The Edison team does not claim to be perfect. In a given year, about 85% of our schools are “up” in proficiency and the other 15% are “flat” or down.” (If you average them all together, our average “gain” is about 7 points per year in proficiency, above national norms.)

Some times we lose a “client school” because we did not perform well, i.e we get fired; other times we choose to leave because we are unable to enact our programs; and then “politics” are often a factor i.e. sometimes regimes change in districts and the new regime does not favor the plan of the old.

Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
What important changes have you made in Edison school programs since the beginning of your management contracts?

Chris Whittle:
Miles . . . . Edison was founded nearly 15 years ago and we have changed a great deal across the years. As but one example, we’ve introduced a completely electronic assessment system that provides teachers a “real time,” monthly picture of how their students are progressing in key subjects against particular state standards. Based on all we know, it is a state-of-the-art system to help teachers guide their instruction. That’s just one example. We’ve also made important progress in leadership development, what we call achievement management systems, teacher professional development, and “learning environments.”

Question from Shannon Groff, Analyst, GAO:
Mr. Whittle, How will schools ensure that students are meeting proficiency targets (adequate yearly progress) for english language arts and mathematics under NCLB if they adopt your independent learning models?

Chris Whittle:
Shannon . . . . Though I’m a big advocate of “independent learning” possibilities, let me be clear that this would not mean models without accountability. Indeed, I think it may actually be easier to track success in many “independent” approaches as many will be electronically based with “built in” assessment techniques.

Question from Christine Gonazlez, Teacher, PS 22-Flushing NY:
How do the Edison Schools decide on curriculum materials, such as books, teacher guides, etc. for the schools? Is there a central buying office, or does each school order individually? How do teachers know what kind of materials we can provide for the children, and what kind of influence do we or our principals have? Thanks so much of for your consideration.

Chris Whittle:
Christine . . . . Edison has a superb team of educational experts who, working with our sites, select curriculum materials. In “core subject areas,” i.e. ones that we need to significantly support such as reading, math, science . . we typically have only one or two programs that we use nationally. As for how we order them, typically schools provide us with a work-up of what they need and we order them in bulk for efficiency reasons.

Question from Ed Hennessey, Teacher:
What is your opinion of teachers’ unions?

Chris Whittle:
Ed . . . I have many, but here are some key ones:

1. Were it not for unions, teachers like yourself would be paid A LOT LESS. Unions have performed a great service in raising teacher compensation in the U.S.

2. I admire many union organizational techniques. For example, they believe in scale, yet they blend that nicely with local control.

3. Unions are not monolithic in their views, as the press often paints them. Example: though they sometimes attack or oppose Edison . . .they also support us here and there.

4. For sure . . . the sometimes place restrictions in collective bargaining agreements that hamper the effectiveness of schools.

Question from T. Graham, College Professor, LeMoyne-Owen College:
How do genuine educators who are committed to the education of children prevent themselves from becoming disenchanted with school district politics, kept alive by special interest groups and idiotic top-level administrators who seem to know little, if anything about educating children?

Chris Whittle:
Mr. Graham . . . I may fall into that group of “idiotic top-level administrators” which you mentioned, but I’m working hard not to!

Your concern about teachers becoming disenchanged is very real. Often, teachers see programs “come and go” as system leaders come and go. One of the key things we all need to work towards is greater continuity in every aspect of schools. Without continuity of programs (and leadership) it is unlikely we can have schools as consistent and reliable as we wish.

Question from Jennifer Schiess, Legislative Budget Board, State of Texas:
You mention pay for performance as a component of your proposed reform. Can you point out some key compenents of the pay for performance system you envision? I’m thinking in terms of teh criteria by which performance is measured, how justification for differential pay is documented, and the degree of variation, or the range, of pay for professionals in a given class (teachers, for example).

Chris Whittle:
Jennifer . . . Well put question. Here are a few key things I believe about performance compensation:

1. It needs to be meaningful versus “base pay.” 2% bonuses do not drive performance. 20-50% bonuses do! (Exceptional principals at Edison can earn bonuses of 20-30% over base pay.)

2. To every extent possible, quantitative factors need to guide such systems. Otherwise, politics tend to drive awards. (As one example of this, we have five measures which guide our principal bonuses. The most important of those (student achievement, adherence to budget, and customer satisfaction) are all driven by quantitative analysis.

Question from Dr. Vanessa Domine, Professor of Educational Technology, Montclair State University (NJ):
How do you see communications technologies facilitating educational innovation?

Chris Whittle:
Dr. Domine . . . America’s schools have just begun to use communication technologies and the future is truly exciting. The recent advances in bandwidth and wireless--and the dramatic drop in the costs of computers--will reshape school as we know it in the future. As just one example of this, check out Google Earth and think about how that impacts a geography class!

Question from Karen Fasimpaur, President, K12 Handhelds:
Chris, first, I really enjoyed the book -- it was quite thought provoking. You talk a lot about improving students’ intrinsic motivation and appreciation for education. Having taught internationally in an environment in which education was my students’ biggest privilege (and they recognized that), I appreciate this -- it can make a HUGE difference in classroom success. What are the keys to creating that kind of environment in US schools?

Chris Whittle:
Karen . . . Glad you liked “Crash Course.” Spread the word!

On student motivation, I was just working on how we do a much better job of it this morning. A couple of important points:

1. We can not leave motivation to chance. We need to be as intentional about helping students “find it” as we are about reading. Said another way, we can’t just expect schools to figure this out on their own. Good “school systems” need to help.

2. Schools (and I include ours) do a far from satisfactory job in connecting the “here and now” which students are experiencing to “how it might affect their future.” If we can help students see how a math or history class increases their chances of happiness and success . . . that’s when we will see achievement soar in schools nationwide.

Question from Chris Morehouse, Analyst, US GAO:
A 2-parter, if you don’t mind: What key issues should Congress consider when the No Child Left Behind Act comes up for reauthorization? What’s the appropriate federal role in education?

Chris Whittle:
Chris . . . . You’ve thrown me the pitch I most want to hit! (Must be that we share names!)

If I could write the next NCLB Act (and I can’t), the key thing I would add is this: America should spend in educational R&D pro rata to what we spend in healthcare and defense R&D. If we did that, we would increase educational R&D in America about 30 fold, from a nearly meaningless $260mm per year to somewhere around $9 billion per year. To put that in some perspective, we spend 100 times as much ($27 billion per year) in healthcare research as we do in education R&D.

And what would that get us? A new generation of schools in America (and I don’t mean buildings!)

Question from Cheyenne Batista, Former Teacher:
Where do special education and ELL students fit into this equation?

Chris Whittle:
Cheyenne . . . . A widely misunderstood matter regarding charter schools (and other public schools managed by private entities) is that virtually all serve both special education and ELL students.

Some facts that might surprise you . . . Over 80% of Edison students are children of color; over 80% of Edison students are Title One children; Edison students have IEP’s at roughly the national average.

Question from Dottie O’Brien, Director of Program Training for Teach For America:
In your opinion, are there certain competencies that make teachers more effective? If so, what are these competencies? Finally, can these competencies be (1) selected for and (2) trained and developed?

How would you describe your theory on how teachers’ change their practice?

Chris Whittle:
Dottie . . . First, congratulations to the Teach for America team. You are doing a wonderful job for America’s schools.

I was in a meeting this morning and we were discussing some of the things that we think Teach for America looks for--and how we might learn from that. Somehow you find a large number of PASSIONATE teachers. You do a great job selecting for that. It can not take the place of other competencies . . . but it certainly drives performance.

Question from Cari Moreland, substitute teacher for Mason City Schools:
A charter school in Cincinnati will be closing its doors Oct. 21, due to financial problems. Ohio’s rules regarding charter schools are different from other states. Should these rules be altered, and if so, how?

Chris Whittle:
Cari . . . . Though we have two charter schools in Ohio (very good ones in Dayton), I’m not suffiently versed on the language you reference. I will say this: most states have some type of revocation capability for financial or academic mis-management. That is, in my opinion, as it should be.

Question from S. Smith, school finance, Washington:
Most charter schools and schools that have been contracted out are under a lot of scrutiny and can be closed for academic or financial failure/mismanagement. Do you advocate for a similar sort of scrutiny for traditional public schools? Should they be forced to close on an individual basis as well or is there another way?

Chris Whittle:
Whatever the playing field, I think it should be level for all schools. If charters can be closed . . . then so it should be with traditional schools and “vice versa.” I don’t think there is any one “right way” to approach consequences for failure . . . but I’m sure that a fair and even-handed approach would benefit both traditional public schools and charters.

Question from K. Thirolf, M.Ed, HGSE, Cambridge, Mass.:
What are your thoughts on the Ed.D. degree? Do you agree with Art Levine, the departing president at Teachers College, that it should be scrapped and replaced with a master’s degree that focuses on management and education? If so, what steps will be necessary to implement such a change?

Chris Whittle:
You stumped me on this one. (I did attend Columbia, but for only one week at the law school!)

Seriously, I’m not sufficiently versed on the requirements of the two degrees to give a worthwhile opinion. With that said . . .I’ll throw in some related bits: several schools are developing joint degrees in education and management OR education and busines. Both those sound promising to me.

Question from Ms. Cole:
How does education as a profession address the fact that our methods are often questioned and that policy is commonly dictated by others outside of our profession? Unlike Engineers, Doctors, and Lawyers, our profession is often circumvented by those that have no professional K12 education experience and by those that lack proficient training in our field as obtained through higher education degrees.

Chris Whittle:
Someone once said that Democracy was a terrible way to run things but it was the best option we have. (I think it was Churchill, but then everything is attributed to him!)

The point: as long as our public schools are controlled by democratic institutions (as I believe they should be), the issue you raise is going to with us. The best cure: elect wise politicians, ones that defer to experts at least some of the time.

Question from Margaret Engel, MSW, parent:
Mr. Whittle, like many other parents, I am homeschooling for academic reasons. Does your vision encompass the learning needs of academically gifted students?

Chris Whittle:
Margaret . . . . Yes. I see schools of the future as “hybrids” between our current model and many home school models. Imagine a school in which a student is in class about half the time (in the traditional sense) and then is “working on their own” or with small, independent student teams the rest of the time--but that all of this is occuring in a school building. I address this idea to a substantial degree in my book. Take a look. I believe it speaks to the needs of academically gifted students.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):

Thank you for all your thoughtful questions, and a special thanks to Mr. Whittle for joining us. Unfortunately, we have run out of time and cannot address all the questions.

This chat is now over. A transcript of this discussion will be posted on this afternoon.

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