Monday, April 12, 2010

Solving the Urban Education Puzzle

I've done several interviews over the last few years about education, including conversations with Wendy Webb and Randy Hoover and this week's chat with Anthony Catale.  I keep hoping that someone will provide some hope -- not just good intentions or even a strong critique, though I've heard plenty of that.  And I know that districts all over the country are wrestling with the same problems we have, so what I'm looking for is, to put it mildly, elusive. 

I'm impressed with Anthony Catale's determination, and he seems to have a good grasp of what's happening in the local district.  But while he can identify a great set of goals, I'm not hearing from him or from anyone a clear sense of how to achieve them.  Catale touts the benefits of "data-driven decision making," which might be the most popular buzz phrase of contemporary education.  The right goals and a ton of data don't necessarily add up to effective strategies. 

I hope the folks on the school board, on the state commission addressing the district's "academic emergency" rating, and in the city schools administration are paying attention to a couple of things:
  • What's going right at Youngstown Early College?  Like some charter schools, YEC may benefit from self-selecting admissions and smaller size, but I can't help but wonder if the rest of the district couldn't borrow some strategies from the only building in the district to earn an excellent rating.
  • What's happening in DC?  Michelle Rhee is creating plenty of tension and attracting lots of attention, and I'm not sure whether her efforts are yielding much.  But they do give us a very visible model of what top-down, data-driven educational management looks like. Is it a good idea?  Education journalist John Merrow has been following the story for over  a year.
As my short list suggests, I have no real answers to offer.  I share the frustration that everyone I talk with expresses about this.  But that frustration also makes me skeptical that a new strategic plan is going to solve our problems.  It's not a bad idea, but we need more. 

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