reformer vs. relinquisher debate
I'm organizing this event because, as I've written many times in my emails, I think what's happening in New Orleans is among the most exciting and instructive things happening in education reform. Here's what I sent out recently:
I'm even more convinced that the single most important issue that we reformers need to grapple with is the reformer vs. relinquisher debate that was so eloquently laid out by Neerav Kingsland, chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans in February. Here is the introduction of what I wrote about it at the time (to read the rest, go to: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2012/02/5-part-series-by-neerav-kingsland-chief.html):
Below is an amazingly thought-provoking 5-part series by Neerav Kingsland, chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans. Here's what one of my friends had to say about it:
I am absolutely not kidding when I say this whole series is the smartest thing I've ever read on education. Actually, this five-part series is ranked 1-5 on my all-time list. I can't believe that a) he nails every single argument and b) he has some new insights that I haven't heard anywhere else. THIS is the only path I can see to reforming a district, and this path is so doable. I can't believe more people aren't onto these points. It's that damn "I can fix this myself" mentality that gets in the way.
Here's the single best paragraph in the whole five-part series: Some call this capitalism, but this is a misnomer. Rather, call it innovation-ism--in that it is a system that is designed to promote, reward, and scale innovation. If you think that somehow education is different--and that your educational ideas will continually outperform a market place of ideas--well, this is a sign of incredible hubris.
Kingsland basically says that reform-minded superintendents should focus on RELINQUISHING rather than reforming, and basically create a fully charterized district, as has been done so successfully in New Orleans:
The reason this discussion is so important is that we cannot be effective if we don't know what the end goal is. Is the goal to improve the existing system – the model of centralized control, whereby the government runs the schools in which 90%+ of kids will be educated (reform) – or is the goal to gradually (or, in the case of New Orleans, suddenly) switch to an entirely different "relinquisher" model, whereby (to quote from Neerav's latest article, below):
Let government set standards and hold schools accountable. Let educators operate schools and measure teacher performance however they choose. And, most importantly, let parents choose schools for their children.
Here's a more extended excerpt, in which he frames the debate over publicly releasing teacher value-added scores from a relinquisher's perspective:
So how does this help us with the value-added controversy? What is a Relinquisher to make of this?
First, the very reason we're publishing teacher value-added data has more to do with a poorly designed educational system (government monopoly) than the actual nuances of effective performance management. We wouldn't even be discussing the publication of value-added scores unless we believed that government is an extremely poor manager of schools (which it is). It is a process answer to a systemic problem — public embarrassment will force change on an otherwise recalcitrant organization.
According to NBER No.1785 – and common sense – it's clear that you do not have to legislate performance evaluations in order for organizations to adopt effective management practices. Last I checked, California has yet to pass legislation on how to measure employee performance at Apple, Inc.
So, how can we ensure the best teachers are hired, developed, rewarded, and retained? It's not by enacting teacher evaluation legislation, and it's not by publishing value-added scores. It's by requiring government to relinquish power so educators can operate their own schools and develop their own performance management systems.
Over time, the schools that utilize the best labor practices will achieve the best results. Maybe this will be using value-added data, maybe not.
The point is to legislate for student achievement outcomes, not for performance management inputs.
Of course, so long as 95 percent of students are in government-operated schools, we'll have to continue having these debates. But from where I stand in New Orleans, there's really no good answer within a government framework. How do you weigh the competing concerns of parents trying to navigate a government monopoly and teachers being publicly shamed by imperfect data? I can't.
The better answer is to change the system itself. Let government set standards and hold schools accountable. Let educators operate schools and measure teacher performance however they choose. And, most importantly, let parents choose schools for their children.