Ten People Who Shaped the Last Decade of the
"Don't look at the two 'education presidents', the dozen or so 'education governors', or other typical powers that be," say the editors of Teacher Magazine (publishers of Education Week). "To identify the real heroes in education look behind the dominant trends of the '90s--the advance of technology, curriculum wars and teacher quality, for example--to find out who truly shaped education in the decade." Among the hundreds of innovators and activists they identified, only ten were tapped as "the most influential Americans who shaped education in the last decade of the 20th century," say the Editors of Teacher. Named as one of those exceptional leaders is St. Louis parent and Project Appleseed founder, Kevin Walker.
A Mom And Pop Shop
To Kevin Walker, the age of the parent activist
has arrived none too soon
By Rachel Hartigan
Kevin Walker came to this conclusion in the early 1990s. Having withdrawn from the itinerant life of a veteran campaigner to spend more time with his young children, he heard that his suburban St. Louis school district was inviting parents to participate in strategic planning. Walker accepted the invitation and, bitten by the reform bug, founded a small parents' group that eventually evolved into the local chapter of Parents for Public Schools. He soon became the Midwestern regional director of PPS, leading a successful lobbying campaign to force Missouri's school districts to submit an annual progress report to parents.
Walker began Project Appleseed in 1993 as a side venture for his PPS chapter. But the project quickly overshadowed the chapter. Within a few months, Walker was called to the White House to discuss education policy with Clinton's domestic advisers.
Eventually, Walker concluded that Parents for Public Schools' early focus on stemming "white flight" was too narrow. Though he knew firsthand how bad schools can drive families from the city-when he was a boy, his middle-class parents moved to largely white suburbia for the better schools-Walker wanted to rally parents of all races and from suburban districts as well as urban systems. In the end, he parted with PPS amicably.
The core of Project Appleseed's work is its campaign to promote parent involvement through a simple pledge, which is available on the Internet to schools and parents alike. By signing the pledge, parents agree to "take personal responsibility" for their children's education; they promise to help their kids with homework for at least 15 minutes each school night, to volunteer at the school at least five hours a semester, and to evaluate their children's progress every six months. Many schools require similar pledges-those receiving federal funding under Title I must use them-but Project Appleseed's appears to be the most widely used. Walker estimates that it has made its way through 1,700 school districts to 3 million parents.
The pledge card doubles as a tool for schools and parent groups to recruit help from moms and dads. It records each parent's name and interests-handy information for schools that want to assemble parent teams to do maintenance work, tutoring, or other volunteer work.
Beyond the pledge, Project Appleseed aims to turn parents into activists. Walker believes that many parents-particularly those in poor, urban districts-are unfairly criticized as apathetic about their children's education. In reality, he contends, parents are stymied by the political and bureaucratic maze typical of school systems. To help, Walker and his staff of six coach mothers and fathers on dealing with teachers, principals, and administrators. The project's Web site is also a clearinghouse of strategic information about education reform, media relations, and political organizing.
The tactics advocated by Project Appleseed aren't exactly incendiary: One memo on the Web site advises those wrestling with uncooperative schools to "try to make your group activities positive and constructive, rather than negative, threatening, and critical." But Walker doesn't advise parents to duck confrontation either; he pointedly reminds them that they don't need permission from school officials to start a group.
One of Project Appleseed's chief missions is to help new parent groups get on their feet, something Walker says usually takes three years. "It takes that long to get up energy, to become organized, and to become a known entity," he explains.
But one such group, Every Parent a Volunteer, expanded from a homegrown startup in Provo, Utah, to a national organization in just two years. Founders Dana Kimball-Israelsen and Brent Israelsen launched the group in 1997 when they noticed that schools with low reading test scores often had little parent involvement. Although they'd initially planned to start just a local organization, Walker urged them to be more ambitious. "Kevin told us how to get off the ground and gave us the names of helpful contacts and resources. But the best thing he gave us was encouragement," says Kimball-Israelsen. "He told us, 'You can do this. It needs to be done.'" Today, the organization is known for its step-by-step guide to developing a school volunteer program.
Currently, Walker is helping Iowans United To Save Our Schools--an amalgam of parents, educators, community leaders, and executives of the gaming industry-to lobby for legislation that would earmark all state revenue from Iowa's casinos and racetracks for school construction. They failed to get a vote on the bill during a recent legislative session, but Walker predicts that it will pass next year.
For all of their heartfelt enthusiasm, organizations like Project Appleseed still must overcome preconceptions about parents' roles in schools. A recent report from Public Agenda indicates that parents are reluctant to take part in school governance; they'd rather chaperone a field trip than sit on a curriculum committee. Teachers aren't crazy about the idea either, and some principals claim their schools are better off without meddlesome parents. Both parents and teachers surveyed by the New York City-based polling group contend that moms and dads are better off at home, raising respectful children who are eager to learn.
Such attitudes are why Walker tries to lure parents in one step at a time. Signing the pledge at least gets parents into the classroom; once there, they may notice something-a decaying building or new teaching methods-that sparks their activist zeal. The process is gradual but vital, says Walker, because parents are the ones who must hold schools to higher standards.
Hooked On Phonics
Marion Joseph brought 'back to basics' back in style.
By David Ruenzel
Marion Joseph arrived at the meeting of California reading experts prepared for a bruising debate. It was 1991, and the phonics and whole language troops in the state's infamous reading wars were lobbing verbal grenades at each other with increasing enmity. But as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, Joseph was surprised at how quickly her questions about the state's new whole language approach made her an enemy of the progressives at the table. "This woman hit the ceiling and said, 'You must be one of those phonics nuts,'" the 73-year-old Joseph recalls as she snips at a rose bush in the backyard of her ranch house in the San Francisco Bay area.
Nutty or not, Joseph soon became California's number one phonics champion. At the time, whole language advocates had the upper hand in the state; to Joseph, the movement was "a holy crusade that spread faster than anything since Christianity." But soon after leaving that meeting, the longtime political activist and education insider ended her nearly decade-old retirement of gardening and grandparenting to launch a crusade of her own. Taking on the state's education establishment with all the subtlety of a pit bull, she raised an alarm over whole language that echoed far beyond California's borders; indeed, Peter Schrag, a noted education writer and a former columnist for the Sacramento Bee, calls Joseph "the Paul Revere of the reading wars." Later, after whole language forces sounded the retreat, she joined the broader curriculum wars over science, math, and other subjects. Today, she's once again a top-ranking education official in the state, her rise to power a clear sign of the country's back-to-basics shift over the past decade.
California's legendary battle over reading dates to the late 1980s, when the state embraced whole language strategies in its curriculum frameworks. Whole language was in part an import from New Zealand; notable scholars such as Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman promulgated its strategies in this country, arguing that children can best learn to read in a "literature rich" environment in which meaning is primarily "drawn out" as a student grapples with context.
Though whole language proponents don't oppose teaching decoding strategies, many in California became anti-phonics zealots, says Bill Honig, the state's schools chief during the movement's ascendant years in the 1980s. "We made the mistake in the new language arts curriculum framework of not mentioning phonics, and a lot of people thought that meant it was eliminated," recalls Honig. "The professors and ed schools, many of whom were outright hostile to phonics, took over."
Joseph first got a sense that something was amiss in 1989, when she visited her grandson's 1st grade classroom and heard a young teacher deliver a rambling talk on reading instruction. "I thought that the state had some new brilliant reading program that hadn't yet made its way to the classroom," she recalls.
Six months later, Joseph found more reason to worry when she and her daughter again visited her grandson's classroom, this time in a different part of the state where the family had moved. "We asked if we could pick up the reading primers, and the teacher said, 'We don't do that anymore.' Instead, she handed us this anthology of children's literature. 'But my child can't read that,' my daughter said. 'He needs books that show him how to read.'"
Joseph spun into action. She was no political novice: During her years as a top aide and campaign manager for Wilson Riles, a Democrat who ran the state schools from 1970 to 1982, she had built a hefty Rolodex of influential contacts. These old friends told her that teachers across the state believed they were forbidden to teach skills. Then, in 1992, California's reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam dropped-a decline that became even steeper in 1994-giving Joseph and others further evidence that whole language was failing.
After spending a couple of months studying the burgeoning research on reading instruction, Joseph showed up, uninvited, at an education summit in San Francisco. Schrag remembers her as "a one-woman band, collaring anybody she could find, discussing all the research. On the way out, as I recall, she grabbed Bill Honig."
Joseph told Honig, who by that time had left the education department, that teachers were no longer using phonics. "We never told them to do that," Honig answered.
"Well, it doesn't matter," she pressed. "That's what's happening."
Honig and Joseph soon joined forces, eventually persuading the state to convene a task force on reading; its recommendations led in 1995 to the passage of legislation mandating instructional materials that teach reading through phonics and math through basic computational skills. Indeed, from 1994 to 1997, the legislature passed a major bill each year to foster the teaching of phonics and spelling.
In 1997, Joseph was appointed by then-Governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, to the state board of education, where she joined the battle to feature strong back-to-basics elements in the statewide standards for the core academic subjects-standards that, by virtue of California's size, would influence textbook content nationwide. Over time, Joseph had begun to see the state's reading problem as symptomatic of philosophical assumptions underlying instruction in other subjects, especially math and science. She felt that one of the chief culprits, set loose upon the schools by the colleges and professional educator organizations, was constructivism-the belief that children do not so much acquire knowledge as construct it from their own experiences.
"Aren't there one or two
things from science history
worth knowing?" Joseph asks with rhetorical exasperation. "I noticed a
number of years ago that no one teaches kids about photosynthesis
anymore-they're supposed to discover it on their own. For goodness
sake, there are sets of facts that are fundamental-once you have them
you can begin to think, to theorize."
Joseph, however, remains unrepentant. "The issue was never about denying children literature-of course children should read rich literature," she says, rolling her eyes. "The issue was about how it became a negative to teach fundamental skills. Look, I never heard even a right-wing person say 'Phonics is what it is all about, we should never go beyond the basic alphabetic principle.' The point is about what the child has to know to get to the next point."
Barbara Kelley wants teachers to climb to new heightsBy Blake Hume Rodman
Twelve years ago, when Maine physical education teacher Barbara Kelley first heard about a new organization that planned to offer national certification for outstanding educators, she was skeptical at best. Kelley knew that the group, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, was well-intentioned. Its founders believed that teaching should follow the lead of other professions like medicine and architecture by recognizing its experts with some form of advanced credential. Establishing a standard of classroom excellence in this way, they hoped, would ultimately promote good teaching and improved learning.
But Kelley, a teacher at the K-3 Vine Street School in Bangor and a local union activist, doubted the new group would follow through on its promise to involve teachers in setting the criteria for certification. "I thought it was just going to be one more reform imposed on us from the outside," she recalls. Kelley also worried that her beloved specialty, physical education, would not be deemed worthy of national certification.
Today, more than a decade later, that fledgling group has become a formidable presence in American education. Supporters span the political spectrum, from President Clinton to former California Governor Pete Wilson, a Republican. Teachers now control the certification process, holding two-thirds of the seats on the 63-member board. And two years ago, the board elected a teacher as its chair. The teacher? Barbara Kelley. The one-time skeptic is now the board's number one booster.
Kelley's change of heart involved a subtle shift in her thinking. She had always supported setting high standards for teachers; without them, she says, "it's impossible to know how your practice measures up." But she had never linked standards to the professionalization of teaching.
In established professions such as medicine, members set and enforce agreed-upon standards, ensuring that those who join their ranks have acquired the appropriate knowledge and cleared the required hurdles. They do that through three unglamorous but crucial mechanisms: national accreditation of training programs, state licensing of novices, and advanced certification of experts. Viewed in light of this troika of quality-control measures, teaching has never been a true profession. State education officials typically decide who gets to teach, and how they decide generally has little to do with classroom practice-and lots to do with politics.
Over the past 10 years, however, things have changed. Taking their cue from the established professions, reform-minded educators and policymakers have sought to build a strong interlocking system of accreditation, licensure, and certification. The once-moribund National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education has toughened its standards for evaluating teacher prep programs, and 17 states now require their public colleges of education to get NCATE's blessing. Meanwhile, a consortium of roughly 40 states is working to strengthen teacher licensing standards. And 16 states-up from three a decade ago-now set licensing standards outside the fickle world of politics through independent boards often made up largely of educators.
Still, most observers agree that the biggest success story of the decade is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Before the board was created in 1987, many teachers and policymakers flatly opposed it. Some feared that singling out top-notch teachers would create rancor within the ranks. Others questioned the hefty costs of producing standards and assessments through which the board would judge candidates, particularly given that there was little evidence that national certification would lead to improved teaching and learning.
Today, much of the opposition has melted away. The board now offers national certification in 21 areas of teaching and is planning for nine more. Nearly 2,000 teachers have earned its stamp of approval, roughly double the number from 1997. Thirteen states and dozens of districts reward board-certified teachers with pay hikes or bonuses, and more are likely to follow suit.
But the clearest sign
that the board has come of age
Kelley's election as chair in 1997. North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt,
the board's founding chair, acknowledged as much when he stepped down,
saying, "It's time to have a teacher as chairman." Arthur Wise, NCATE
president and a member of the board, explains: "Bringing the board into
existence required political leadership. But having those political
leaders remain in charge contradicts the idea of professionalization.
If you believe that teachers should control standards the way other
professions control their standards, then you ultimately need
leadership in the hands of teachers."
Ironically, Kelley's selection as a board member in 1992 was a bit of a fluke. A longtime leader of her local and state National Education Association affiliates, she had stood at the NEA's national convention a year earlier and urged the union to nominate a P.E. teacher for the board. To her surprise, the speech prompted NEA leaders to suggest Kelley herself. The board also accepted her, bringing one of its early dissenters into the fold.
Kelley arrived for her first meeting itching to shake things up, ready to champion P.E. and other subjects that some might see as peripheral. She was also concerned that the board's use of videotaping in its assessments would prevent teachers in low-tech, rural schools from getting certified. But she discovered that the members were way ahead of her. "These conversations had already taken place," she says. "I thought I was going to find these ivory tower intellectuals, but I found instead an entire board that had a vision about recognizing accomplished teaching no matter where it is. I wasn't a voice in the wilderness; I was one of the chorus."
These days, Kelley keeps a mind-boggling schedule, somehow balancing her teaching and family life with her board obligations. By her own account, she is a person of many passions: her family (she's married to Bangor 1st grade teacher Edward Kelley, and together they have two sons, ages 18 and 21); tennis (she competes on a top-flight amateur team); teaching P.E. (she was the 1991 Maine P.E. teacher of the year); and her union (in addition to her work for her local and state affiliate, she has been an NEA director).
Since becoming chair, Kelley has spent countless days on the road, talking to teachers about national certification and its two cousin components of the professionalization agenda. The board, she believes, has become a kind of guiding light for those other efforts. She points out that NCATE and a number of state licensing bodies are aligning their standards with the board's, using them to leverage improvements in teacher education and the quality of rookies entering the classroom. "We actually have a North Star here, where before we had nothing," she says.
As for Kelley's long-awaited P.E. standards, the board approved them in June. And how did she feel? "The same way," she says, "as when my son walked across the stage at his high school graduation this spring."CHOICE TAKES HOLD
Teacher Milo Cutter blazed the trail for a radical ideaBy David Hill
Ten years ago, Milo Cutter was a 40-year-old social studies teacher working at an alternative high school in St. Paul, Minnesota. The school served 125 students, most of them poor Hispanics. Yet even at that small size, students were slipping through the cracks. "Too many of them felt as if they didn't belong there," Cutter recalls. The dropout rate was high-much too high, she believed, for a school specifically designed for at-risk teens. Something wasn't working. There must be another way, she thought, an alternative to the alternative.
It wasn't long before Cutter was creating just such a school, one that would herald a dramatic change in public education. In 1991, Minnesota legislators passed a law that allowed for the creation of eight so-called charter schools-schools that would be publicly funded but freed from most state and local regulations. Under the law, licensed teachers could submit proposals for new schools to local districts. Districts, in turn, could issue "charters," agreements that, upon approval by the state board of education, granted the teachers semi-autonomy in exchange for guarantees of academic performance.
Cutter quickly saw the law as an opportunity to do something different. She and several colleagues spent months drafting a proposal for a charter school they dubbed City Academy. "We wanted a school," Cutter says, "where the number one priority would be the students. We were hoping for the ultimate in student focus." The school would be located in one of St. Paul's poorest neighborhoods, and it would serve 30 students who had either dropped out of their regular schools or been kicked out.
The proposal didn't endear Cutter and the others to the leaders of the state and local teachers' unions. The Minnesota Education Association had fought the new law, calling charters "a cruel hoax." And the local teachers' union, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, opposed the proposal for City Academy. Still, in April 1992, the school won approval from the St. Paul school board. Two months later, the state board approved the City Academy charter, and, on September 7, the nation's first charter school opened its doors.
Today, City Academy is a thriving school with about 100 students, and Cutter is considered a pioneer of the charter school movement-though she laughs at the description. "That sounds like someone going across the prairie in a covered wagon," she says. "I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time."
"Milo Cutter is very modest, very self-effacing," says Joe Nathan, a longtime charter school advocate and director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. "When you meet her, she's quiet and demure. She's also one of the most tenacious people I've ever met. She thinks very carefully about her priorities, and her priorities are serving those kids."
Indeed, City Academy is in many ways a model charter school, where passionate teachers work year-round to change the lives of students who have failed elsewhere. Housed in a neighborhood recreation center, the school is, according to Nathan, "a living example of the power of love, community, creativity, and very hard work." Cutter and 13 others operate City Academy cooperatively-without a principal-meeting once a week to discuss administrative and policy decisions. "It's a very autonomous place," says Cutter. Because teachers run the school, they can act quickly to meet the needs of the students, without bureaucratic delays. In fact, the school has no office staff whatsoever. "Everyone who works here is directly involved with the kids," she says.
In just eight years, charter schools have become a permanent fixture of the nation's education landscape. At last count, there were about 1,200 such schools in dozens of states, with several hundred more scheduled to open in September. The National Education Association, once a staunch opponent of charters, now embraces them through its Charter Schools Initiative, a five-year effort involving a handful of NEA-sponsored charters around the country. (Cutter serves as an adviser to the initiative.) President Clinton likes charter schools so much that he has called for 3,000 new ones by the year 2000.
The popularity of charter schools reflects in part the growing acceptance of school choice in the '90s. Though still controversial, voucher programs to help parents send children to private school are getting test runs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida. The charter school concept, meanwhile, has been embraced as a truly bipartisan school reform. As writer James Traub pointed out recently in the New York Times, "Both progressives and traditionalists can create schools of their own, leaving agnostics free to believe in the wisdom of letting a hundred flowers bloom. Liberals like choice; free-market conservatives like vouchers-and, as it turns out, both have found they can live with charters."
"It was a concept whose time truly had come," says Jeanne Allen, president of the conservative Center for Education Reform and a strong charter school advocate. "And the reason they have taken off is because they make so much sense to so many people."
But do they work? It's too soon to say, although proponents cite anecdotal evidence that some charter schools are outperforming comparable traditional schools. Last year, students at the Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware, had the highest average SAT scores of any public school in the state.
But other charters haven't lived up to their promises, and their contracts have been canceled. Some of the worst charters, critics say, can be found in the two states with the most free-wheeling charter school laws: Arizona and Michigan. "In scores of charters" in those states, noted a recent cover story in U.S. News & World Report, "curricula and teaching are weak, buildings are substandard, and financial abuses are surprisingly prevalent."
Whatever the failings of individual charter schools, the movement has challenged longheld traditions of education. Some states permit noneducators-parents, community groups, local social service agencies, or even for-profit companies-to open charters. Many of these schools buck the notion of the common school, tailoring their curricula-and marketing their services-to specific groups of students. Schools have opened to serve dropouts, kids with learning disabilities, and high-achieving science and math students.
"Charter schools," says Nathan, "tap into the idea that people ought to be able to carry out their own dreams. The charter school movement responds to that deep need-the idea that we can do better. Charter schools are about hope, about people believing they can make a difference."
People like Milo
Cutter. Looking back on her experience
school from scratch, she says, with characteristic modesty, "It just
seemed like the right thing to do."
Once a brawler, Tom Mooney flexes union muscle in new ways
By Ann Bradley
When the superintendent of the Cincinnati public schools moved last spring to cut innovative teacher programs, his mailbox was soon stuffed with letters from prominent educators and researchers across the nation, urging him to reconsider. The letter-writing campaign was orchestrated, of course. And there was little doubt that the person behind it was Tom Mooney, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.
Over the past 20 years, while superintendents have come and gone from the Queen City, Mooney has been a constant political force. Always a shrewd tactician, Mooney has displayed a knack for picking the right strategies for the right moment. In 1979, at the tender age of 25, he led 4,000 people through downtown Cincinnati at rush hour to protest low wages, poor working conditions, and the district's shabby treatment of teachers. Today, with the union and the district on more amicable terms, he works hand-in-hand with school officials on many issues, an equal partner in some of the city's ambitious education reforms.
The result? Long before "new unionism" and "teacher quality" became buzz words of the '90s, Cincinnati has turned itself into a model of how to make teaching a real profession. Thanks largely to Mooney and the CFT, Cincinnati teachers play key roles in district decisions, affording them influence that other teachers only dream about. And during the 1990s-a time when teacher quality has at last come to be seen as the essential ingredient in student achievement-Mooney has negotiated a package of teacher-development programs that gives Cincinnati teachers more rights and responsibilities than their counterparts in virtually any other city.
Of course, when Mooney started teaching in 1975, unions focused on little beyond wages and working conditions. As a middle school social studies teacher from Antioch College in Ohio, he made $8,700 a year; raises weren't keeping up with inflation, classes were overcrowded, and bureaucrats ran the show. Mooney says teachers had two choices: quit or get militant.
Mooney chose the latter and started reading the newsletters published by the American Federation of Teachers' feisty local. The AFT chapter had lost Cincinnati's first bargaining election to its National Education Association rival in 1969. But Federation members took lessons in battle tactics from a Milwaukee-based brewers' union, and in 1976, they won the right to represent teachers. Mooney, 22, was on the bargaining team for the first contract. In 1979, he successfully ran for president, a full-time post.
One of Mooney's first moves was to put together a bargaining council with the three other unions that represented employees of the Cincinnati public schools. (Mooney's wife is the president of the clerical workers' union. The couple has two children, ages 11 and 16.) The first order of business was to secure raises: "People were just fleeing in droves. We had to raise six kinds of hell."
But even as he waged a traditional labor war over traditional labor issues, Mooney hoped for more. Cincinnati's union contract at the time spoke of treating teachers more like professionals, but that remained largely rhetoric.
Then came the education reform movement sparked by A Nation at Risk, the 1983 federal report that condemned the state of America's schools. Teachers were badly stung by the harsh verdict, but Mooney says his members recognized its essential truths and were ready to act. "They would have been nailing manifestos to the courthouse door any time of the week-if they had had the time to type them up."
In the education policy swirl that followed A Nation at Risk, the Cincinnati union had an advantage: It was an affiliate of the AFT, whose president, Albert Shanker, backed radical school reforms often rejected by the NEA. Mooney also realized that raw power wasn't going to get teachers where they wanted to go, especially in the conservative, corporate-dominated environment of Cincinnati.
In 1985, although the bargaining climate was still adversarial, the Federation negotiated a breakthrough contract that introduced peer review, called for raising academic standards, and lowered class size. Before the next round of bargaining, the union and district were trained in so-called "interest-based bargaining," a technique designed to ease conflict in negotiations and focus parties on the big picture. Over the next 10 years, the two sides forged a partnership to create the teacher-quality programs for which the city has become known.
Today, a steady parade of visitors comes to Cincinnati's schools to learn more about the district's peer assistance and evaluation program, in which classroom experts work with both new teachers and veterans; its career-in-teaching program, a four-step career ladder that moves teachers into school leadership roles; and its professional practice schools, run in partnership with the University of Cincinnati, that provide yearlong, paid internships for prospective teachers in their fifth year of college.
Despite the accolades showered on these programs, Mooney often has to defend them from budget cutters in lean fiscal years. "As much as we have made structural changes in the direction of becoming a profession that are bolder than certainly most other places," he explains, "a lot of the opinion leaders and powerful people in the community still don't seem to get it or seem to support it. The [school] bureaucracy finds it threatening. And so there's a constant tug of war."
At times, CFT's rank and file also resists Mooney's forays into nontraditional union issues. Last year, teachers rejected a plan to close and redesign failing schools. (They later reversed themselves, however, and two schools were scheduled to be shut down.) Teachers also balked at a proposal to give bonuses to educators at improving schools.
initiatives occasionally run up
interests of others in the district. Parents, for example, are pressing
for the same kind of influence on decisionmaking that the CFT wants for
teachers. Margaret Hulbert, president of the Cincinnati chapter of
Parents for Public Schools, says Mooney understands the need for
parents and teachers to come together on behalf of public education. He
speaks well on the subject, she says. "But at the bargaining table, he
reverts to protecting teachers' rights. I'm always going to be
reminding him that he could be doing more to bring parents to the
Ralph Jackson, the CFT's number two officer, says, "He could tell you where he thinks the organization needs to be five years from now, and then five years later you look back and say, 'That's where we are.'."
After two decades as president of the 3,500-member CFT, Mooney doesn't plan to run again. The union's focus on teacher professionalism, he reasons, has generated a cadre of dedicated, talented people who can take his place.
"It's ridiculously egotistical to think nobody else can do it," he says.
And after years of long hours-"I used to have to stop him from calling me on Sunday," Jackson says with a laugh-Mooney admits he's ready for a slower-paced lifestyle. "This is just grueling. The family pays too high a price; you personally pay too high a price."
What's next is not
clear. Mooney says he may get a
degree, which he's never had time to do, but he's made no definite
plans. "I've been doing this long enough, and it's been so absorbing
and consuming that I almost have to cut those ties before I can think
clearly about what I want to do when I grow up.".
RETREAT FROM INTEGRATION
Is Michael McLaughlin a racist or a civil rights advocate?By Robert Keough
Michael McLaughlin, a middle-aged white lawyer from Boston, would seem an unlikely symbol of the civil rights movement. But as the aggrieved father of a 12-year-old girl shut out of a prestigious public high school solely because she is white, McLaughlin is emblematic of a new breed of court plaintiff who has attacked some school-integration efforts as racially discriminatory. Some may question McLaughlin's motives, but like blacks who went to court in the '50s to fight segregation, he's turned long-standing principles of race and education on their head.
McLaughlin first stepped into Boston's historically fractious debate over integration in 1995. Filing a lawsuit on behalf of his daughter, Julia, he challenged the use of race as a determining factor in admission to Boston Latin School, the nation's oldest public school and the city's most selective high school. Julia had been passed over for admission to Boston Latin in favor of minority students, despite her better academic record. In the suit, McLaughlin targeted the school's policy to set aside 35 percent of its seats for African Americans and Hispanics-a modest affirmative action plan for a city where 85 percent of the students are minorities.
When his daughter was denied admission to an elite Boston school, McLaughlin sued--claiming reverse discrimination. In 1996, U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity--the very judge who in 1974 imposed busing on the Boston public schools-ruled in McLaughlin's favor, saying that Boston Latin's racial quota might not be "narrowly enough tailored to pass constitutional muster" today. The Boston School Committee soon abandoned the set-aside, and Julia enrolled at the school.
But McLaughlin's fight was not over. The new admission system that the Boston School Committee put into effect the following year applied "flexible" racial guidelines to half the incoming class. This policy blocked the admission of Sarah Wessman, a friend of Julia's, who was edged out by African American and Hispanic students with lower composite scores. McLaughlin went back to court, representing Wessman at her father's request. He lost the case at trial but won on appeal last November. "While we appreciate the difficulty of the School Committee's task and admire the values that it seeks to nourish, noble ends cannot justify the deployment of constitutionally impermissible means," wrote First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bruce Selya, striking down the set-aside policy.
officials remain committed to finding
diversity at the elite exam schools. But this year's new students at
Boston Latin have been chosen strictly according to their grades and
test scores, without regard to race. The result: 81 blacks and
Hispanics will enter the school this fall as first-year students,
roughly half the number admitted in 1996, the last year of the 35
Meanwhile, the 50-year-old McLaughlin has become a national figure, the first to bring the legal assault on college affirmative action quotas to student assignment in K-12 public schools. But in Boston, where McLaughlin practices law and lives in the racially mixed neighborhood of Hyde Park, he remains enigmatic and controversial.
Born in the working-class city of Brockton, Massachusetts, the youngest of five siblings, McLaughlin was orphaned at 16. He finished high school living in a rooming house and working at a shoe factory. Then a muscular six-foot, three-inches, he became a crew star at Northeastern University, which he attended on scholarship. He coached at Princeton after he graduated. By the time he entered Boston University Law School in 1979, he was 30 years old and married with two daughters-Julia is his third. Like many of Boston's Catholics and middle-class families who shun the city's public education system, he sent his children to Catholic school in the early grades with the idea of enrolling them at Boston Latin, the city's flagship school, in 7th grade. His first two daughters were admitted; only Julia ran afoul of the set-aside.
On the ideologically riven battlefield of race and rights, McLaughlin professes to be a reluctant warrior. "This is not a crusade against affirmative action per se," McLaughlin said at the time of his daughter's case. "It's a lawsuit that says government cannot discriminate against my child based on her race, period."
He has largely steered clear of agenda-pushing national anti-affirmative action groups, pursuing his cause at considerable personal expense. He was driven from his law firm, whose partners include a prominent Boston civil rights attorney, when he refused to withdraw as counsel in his daughter's case even though the litigation was mostly handled by other attorneys retained as co-counsel. (McLaughlin raised eyebrows-and Judge Garrity's hackles-when he tried to bill his time on the case to the city as part of his daughter's legal expenses. The judge reduced McLaughlin's claim for compensation from $209,000 to $75,000.)
Denounced as a self-promoter and publicity seeker, McLaughlin claims he has turned down "thousands" of reverse-discrimination cases. He refuses interviews about his Boston Latin victories, saying they distract him from building his now solo practice, which is principally in banking and construction law. Yet last spring McLaughlin filed suit on behalf of eight white police officers. In the suit, he charged that the Boston police department manipulated its test-based promotion process to advance three African American officers at the expense of white cops with identical exam scores. That has put him back in the newspapers, where he again insists that his only agenda is to defend worthy individuals against the discriminatory effects of what he calls "racial balancing."
"We're not trying to get these blacks fired," McLaughlin told the Boston Herald after filing the new lawsuit. "That's not the issue. We're not saying they're unqualified. What we are saying is you can't pick them to the exclusion of our people."
McLaughlin may not consider himself to be an ideological crusader, but his tactics and rhetoric in the Boston Latin cases have been imitated in numerous lawsuits that challenge voluntary school desegregation plans. These legal actions reflect increasing public disenchantment with racial quotas that seem mostly to shuffle around a small number of white students among predominantly black and Hispanic big-city schools. "It's a classic example of failed social policy," says Harvard University historian Stephan Thernstrom, co-author with Abigail Thernstrom of America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible. "The schools are more segregated, more racially unbalanced than ever because the whites all left, as did the black middle class," says Thernstrom, who testified in the Wessman case. "Yet we continue to spend in Boston $30 million a year in an attempt to engineer racial balance."
Although many of these new plaintiffs deploy the same rhetoric that effectively undercut Jim Crow laws a half century ago, critics suggest their motives are quite the opposite. "These attacks in the name of color-blindness appropriate the language of the civil rights movement," says Theodore Shaw, associate director and counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "They use it as a Trojan horse that will ultimately reintroduce segregation. Whether they will be successful or not is still up in the air."
Indeed, how much the courts will force-or even allow-school districts to ignore race in student assignment is not yet clear. No major challenge to school-desegregation plans has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet some observers are clearly anxious that these new cries of discrimination will turn back the clock on years of integration.
"Within a short period of time there will be very few urban desegregation plans in place in the United States," says Gary Orfield, director of the Harvard Project on School Desegregation and co-author of the 1997 book, Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. The only racial mixing in schools, he predicts, will be "what occurs by accident. Anything else is going to be challenged by some white parent."
Jay Robinson's plain talk sparked a revolution in tough love
By Drew Lindsay
The testimony rang of desperation. For weeks, North Carolina's board of education had been drafting a blueprint for a massive shake-up of schools to improve the state's anemic academic performance. Now, on this warm spring evening in 1995, they were gathered in a stuffy room of the red-granite state education building known as the "pink palace" to hear the fears of educators eager to ditch the plan. Indeed, there was a lot to be anxious about: Under the plan, nearly half the state education department staff would be fired, and key job protections for teachers would be shredded.
Throughout the nearly two hours of testimony, Jay Robinson, the bespectacled, graying chair of the board, sat impassively at the center of the room's horseshoe-shaped table. Born in the Depression-era Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina, Robinson spoke to the petitioners with a twang that kicked like a slug of hillbilly moonshine. To each, he offered assurances that the board had heard their concerns. But to all, he delivered this warning: The plan would go forward.
Five years later, that plan is now law, and North Carolina's education system is a shadow of its former self, just as Robinson promised. Once a state whose regulations put educators in straitjackets, North Carolina is now dabbling in laissez-faire management of its schools. And in an era when lots of states are devising carrot-and-stick systems to hold schools accountable for student achievement, the Tarheel State has become a model of tough love that works.
None of this would have happened without Robinson. He came to the board in 1994 after a 36-year career as a math teacher, three-sport coach, and administrator. He was best known for steering the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system through the tense period in the 1970s and 1980s that followed court-ordered busing. More recently, he had worked magic in the legislature as a lobbyist for the University of North Carolina system. With such credentials, Robinson commanded respect from educators and lawmakers. "He is a genius in common sense," says James Watts, an education analyst who worked in the legislature when the board's plan was conceived. "He's a master at what works and doesn't work in schools, and he understands what works and doesn't work in politics."
Although Robinson is hailed as the architect of North Carolina's new K-12 system, he had to be cajoled into taking his seat on the board. In 1994, he was 65 and heading off to a retirement of fishing, golfing, and walking the beaches of Wilmington with his wife (his childhood sweetheart) when Governor Jim Hunt phoned. "He said, 'We're going to close all the schools if you don't come take this job,'" Robinson recalls. "It was a ridiculous argument--I wasn't the only one who could do it--but Jim Hunt is a very persuasive man."
Robinson was soon meeting with lawmakers to quell a rebellion in the legislature, which was controlled by Republicans for the first time in a century. The most recent national and state tests had revealed huge gaps in achievement across North Carolina; some schools were doing well, but others were producing students who couldn't read or write. Citing these test scores, newly elected conservatives were championing vouchers and tuition tax credits. Leaders in the House and Senate, however, weren't ready to give up on the public schools. They told Robinson they would give him one chance to revamp the state's education system.
The plan that the board rolled out in the spring of 1995 was one of the first of its kind. "Accountability" had been a buzz word nationally for some time, with many states issuing report cards to grade schools on student performance. But Robinson's board moved to institute a system with consequences, one in which success would be rewarded and failure punished. Under this scheme, the state would pay salary bonuses to teachers and administrators at schools where student test scores improved dramatically. It would also send SWAT-like assistance teams to schools where test scores lagged. And for persistently troubled schools, the plan carried a threat: Improve, or the state will take control, fire the principal, and strip teachers of tenure.
The board's plan had roots in Kentucky's pioneering program begun in the early 1990s, but it was not without new wrinkles. The state, for example, would set targets for test scores at each of North Carolina's 2,000 schools and dole out rewards or assistance based on whether the goals were met. This ignored tradition-most states compared school scores to statewide averages-but it permitted North Carolina to measure progress and insist that all schools improve every year.
Robinson, the former ace lobbyist, also put a few political sweeteners in the plan to ensure its legislative success. He agreed, for example, to legislators' demands that teachers at low-performing schools take competency tests to keep their jobs. "We weren't too excited about that," he explains, "but we had to sell the plan to the legislature. It was more a political idea than an educational idea."
In the end, Robinson's down-home demeanor won the day in the legislature. He was the perfect general for an education revolution whose complexity could have scared off lawmakers, explains Tom Houlihan, Jim Hunt's former education adviser. "He had an uncanny ability to put some country spin on some very complicated issues. He would just slip into this country brogue and use mountain analogies that were funny-and effective."
Whether the fledgling plan will leverage big improvements in learning is not clear. But experts think it will. A recent federal report concluded that North Carolina's improved performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress-the state, along with Texas, posted the largest average gains on the tests between 1990 and 1997-was fueled in part by the new accountability system.
Others contend that the accountability plan has helped restore public confidence in the schools-confidence that helped win passage of a $1.8 billion state bond for school construction in 1996 as well as several teacher pay raises. "I had high hopes for the program," Robinson says, "but it's exceeded all my hopes. It's changing attitudes; people now see good things going on in the schools and think education is on the right track."
Some in the state, however, argue the opposite. The plan had a rocky start with teachers: The teacher-competency test was tabled after the state teachers' union rebelled, and assistance teams sent to low-performing schools met with resistance from faculties. Now, critics say, school morale is low, with many teachers claiming that they are being forced to teach to the test-a common complaint in states with accountability systems.
Watts, now an official with the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta, says North Carolina's accountability system is one of the best in the country. But nagging details remain. "The key to North Carolina is the extent to which they refine and improve the system they've got," he says. "If they don't, there's potential for serious problems."
Whatever problems arise, the state will have to deal with them without Robinson. He's retired-again-to the Wilmington beaches, and he's keeping a low profile. "He set the perfect example of what a leader should do," Houlihan says. "He came in, did what he had promised, and when he was done, he left."
Principal Lynn Liptak keeps her cool as cities feel the heat.
By Cecilia Capuzzi Simon
'Educational child abuse." That's how a top New Jersey official characterized the Jersey City schools in 1989, on the eve of the state's takeover of the district. Such a hostile move was unprecedented; no state had ever disbanded a locally elected school board to seize complete control of a district. But New Jersey's lawmakers and bureaucrats declared such drastic action their last, best hope to reverse years of corruption, mismanagement, and miseducation of the city's 32,000 students.
Brazen as the Jersey City takeover seemed, state officials had only just begun: In 1991, New Jersey took over Paterson; four years later, they went into Newark. Nationwide, states soon made similar power plays in cities across the country. Eleven states assumed control of low-performing districts in the 1990s; 22 more passed laws that allow them to do so. Still others eschewed takeovers but put urban schools under tight rein, issuing dictums on everything from curriculum to class size.
No one is more familiar with the many implications of state-prescribed school reform than Lynn Liptak, principal of the K-8 School #2 in Paterson. Shortly after the state took over Paterson's schools, Liptak was called in to turn around the ailing #2. She has since introduced a host of cutting-edge reforms and earned a reputation as a top leader. But School #2, as Liptak readily admits, has a ways to go. A decade after states began taking charge of city schools, the school is a perfect example of how the problems of urban education can resist cookie-cutter solutions.
In many ways, #2 is a prototypical urban school. "We are as inner-city as you can get," explains Liptak. "We draw students from a women's shelter, a center for ill and disabled parents, and a teen center." Driving in downtown Paterson, you get the picture: Main Street is lined with unkempt storefronts-the Latin Bar Restaurant, Casa Elegante Furniture, Lucky 7 Bail Bond-gated across their windows and doors to deter vandalism. The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, poet Allen Ginsberg, and comedian Lou Costello, Paterson once thrived as a silk mill town. Today, it is part of the rust belt.
Liptak, 51, is tall and fair with a quiet but steeled manner about her. Last winter, she completed her doctorate in education at Columbia University-another milestone in a career that began more than 25 years ago in her hometown of Los Angeles, where she taught 1st grade before moving to New Jersey in 1972. In Paterson, she taught bilingual 3rd grade (she is fluent in Spanish) and then moved onto the district's administrative track. She served as principal of two other K-4 schools before taking her current post.
School #2 is a sprawling, three-story brick structure, part of which dates to 1871. (Founded in 1856, #2 is one of the oldest public schools in the country.) Bouncing from one end of it to another, Liptak is in perpetual motion and demand. She has 37 classrooms, 745 students, and some 100 staffers to keep up with.
The school swirls with noise and activity-and competing interests. Seventy-five percent of the students are Hispanic, 13 percent African American, and 12 percent Bengali. Liptak is committed to teaching her bilingual students-30 percent of the enrollment-in both English and their native language, which means #2 is home to one of the country's few Bengali-speaking teachers. There is a special class for autistic kids; a kindergarten for the neurologically impaired; three kindergarten classes with students from elsewhere in the district; and a 2nd grade class experimenting with an audio system designed to help learning disabled students.
Even Liptak's office offers little respite from the school's bustle. Staff walk in and out to use her private bathroom. The phone rings constantly, and it's startlingly loud. Through it all, Liptak seems a reservoir of calm, though she admits to feeling "spread thin."
"The Paterson school district is frenetic," says Patricia Wang-Iverson, a senior associate with the Mid-Atlantic Eisenhower Consortium of Research for Better Schools who also works as a math consultant at School #2. "Lynn is a gentle individual. You look at her and wonder, Gosh, how can someone like that run a school? But I think she's a remarkable individual with a big picture and, with her doctorate, is a model for lifelong learning. What she does through her personality is provide stability and calm that is needed. She treats her staff and students with respect."
When the state took over Paterson, School #2 was declared one of New Jersey's worst. Though a dubious distinction, it freed Liptak to recast the school with outside help. She seized the opportunity, partnering with Columbia University to map out plans for reform. It was the beginning, she says, of "building a community of inquiry together. I never had anything like that in my career-that chance to say, 'OK, this school can redesign itself, and with the promise that the central office will go with whatever we determine to be the redesign.'"
Liptak has built on this
view of reform over the years
#2. Whereas she once instituted change with answers already in hand,
her MO is now rooted in experimentation and what she calls "grappling
with questions." Soon after coming to #2, for example, Liptak wrestled
with a question that plagues many city schools: How do you prepare kids
to excel in math so they can increase their chances of attending
college? The principal and her school management team knew that kids
who don't take algebra and geometry in high school-particularly poor
students-are not likely to go to college.
In many of her reform initiatives, Liptak has brought in education groups and consultants to work side by side with her teachers. "The outside experts coming in and telling us what to do has not really worked for us," she says. Many of these partnerships have led to groundbreaking work. Thanks to a collaboration with the federally funded Eisenhower Consortium, for example, School #2 built lesson plans based on a study of videotapes from the Third International Math and Science Study. Wang-Iverson says the school is one of the few in the country to recognize the possibilities for professional development in the TIMSS tapes.
Liptak has installed each of her reforms with the state's mandates in mind, although the state hasn't always been on top of her changes. Nor would it necessarily have approved of them all. A year after arriving at the school, for example, she put in place the reading portion of Robert Slavin's Success for All program-a "whole school" reform that the state recently ordered for hundreds of city schools. "We were kind of ahead of the curve," she says modestly, then adds, ironically, "The state called me earlier this year and congratulated me on selecting Success for All. I'd been using it for six years."
Liptak's quiet sarcasm illustrates the tension in her relationship with the state: As she tries to engineer change within #2, the state is managing the Sisyphean task of directing reform in hundreds of schools. As a result, the two sometimes don't see eye to eye. Recently, she and her management team proposed in their budget to split #2 into three smaller schools. The state rejected the idea because it did not fit the Success for All scheme. "Whatever was not part of Success for All was taken out," she says. "So you say, Well, why did we do the budget?"
Liptak admits that she
has had to duck the state at
what she thinks is best. Before implementing the Chicago math
curriculum, she considered seeking the state's approval, but then
thought better of it. "They say it's better to beg forgiveness than to
ask permission," she says. "We just thought, Well, if we ask and they
say no, we're stuck with the same old, same old."
Complaints like this are common in districts where states are in charge. To their credit, states in the decade after the Jersey City takeover have moved into chaotic school systems and repaired buildings, streamlined finances, and generally restored the order necessary for kids to learn. But they've been far less successful at improving academic performance. This summer, for example, the state returned control of Jersey City's schools to the district, even though achievement and attendance rates remain virtually unchanged from 1989.
To Liptak, it's clear that states won't successfully reform city schools until they work with the people who run them. "What's hit me hard since I've been here," she says, "is the importance of rolling up my sleeves and getting down in the soup. There is now a reciprocity in my relationship with teachers that is so missing in the [state] bureaucracy. It's like teachers can't deal with things, so they are told what to do; principals can't deal with things, so they are told what to do. The deficit model has held us down for too long. We've got to break that."
TEACHER MAGAZINE AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 1999
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