I thought it was a good interview with good questions asked and honest, direct answers - I just didn't like what I heard. Vasquez, who was just re-elected to the position of president, set up a committee at the end of last year to look at transformational change - you know, 'out-of-the-box' thinking about how to deal with the structural issues within TPS that leave them with ever-increasing deficits. Considering that they're facing a $38 million deficit for next year, this seemed like a good thing.
But when Fred asked him if the committee was looking at anything like what Detroit is considering, or if they'd looked at just auctioning off their schools, his answer was a resounding 'no.'
Why not consider what New Orleans schools did following Hurricane Katrina? It's resulted in increased scores for the students and has been called "a laboratory for education reform." They were even named the most “reform friendly” for education by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Why wouldn't this committee at least have looked at this example?
Perhaps New Orleans is too far away. So why not consider what Cleveland is doing in reaching out to charter schools?
Are they considering The Parent Trigger, a law recently passed in California? As the linked article explains, "if half the parents whose children attend a failing public school sign a petition requesting reform of the school, the school must either shut down, become a charter school, or undergo one of two other types of reform."
As The Heartland Institute explains:
"There is little disagreement, then, that public schools need to be improved. The disagreement is about what reform ideas show the most promise.
Responsibility for organizing and funding schools rests mostly with the states, though the federal government plays a growing role since adoption of the No Child Left Behind law. Much of the focus of the reform debate is on funding – either federal or by the states – but this attention is misplaced. There is actually little relationship between spending and student achievement.
Many reform proposals call for changes that would require more resources - smaller class sizes, higher teacher pay, improved teacher training, more preschool programs, and more technology in the classroom. But past reform efforts of this kind have consistently failed to produce the improvements expected.
What is missing from these resource-oriented and management-oriented reforms is competition and parental choice. Because the public school system is the exclusive provider of “free” K-12 education, its annual revenues -- and revenue increases -- are largely independent of student achievement. As a result, public schools have no structural incentive to improve their overall performance, despite the best efforts of dedicated teachers and principals within the system. Competition would change all that."
Is the committee looking at how to bring competition into the discussion? Sadly, according to Vasquez, they've broken into two groups - one learning the intricacies of a public school budget and mandates and the other looking at how to raise the money for a facilitator.
Yes, you read that correctly - a facilitator. As I wrote in December:
Of course, one of the key recommendations to make the light of day was to hire a consultant to run a huge public forum in February so that people could 'feel' like they have a say in the process of changing TPS. The cost? $72,000. But that's a bargain because the original idea was to pay the consultant $240,000 for six months to guide the schools district through the public forums and then help implement the agreed-upon changes. So what will the $72,000 get us? Three months of service from the Cady Group to do the forum and then 'teach' groups how to work together.
Of course, with a $38 million budget deficit for the 2011-12 school year, where will TPS find the money to pay someone to host a forum? Perhaps they could actually heed the suggestions and comments they get at their monthly board meetings as an alternative.
Maybe they could just read The Heartland Institute's education page as well.
I do give Vasquez credit for one of the things he discussed. He said he was getting information from the administrators that they were looking at what they could do in light of the union contract. He said the administrators should look at what they wanted to do to address the problems and then they'd go to the union to work things out. That's the right approach, as no union contract should dictate the possibilities a school system explores in order to work more efficiently and to better educate the children.
But if the school board members and the transformational change committee are not even looking at what other school districts are doing to actually transform, if they're not seeking out ideas from groups like Heartland, I fear we will be right back where we started: declining performance of our students and increasing deficits.