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Transcript of Plenary Session: Cycles of Urban School Reform, 5/6/2004
NewSchools Venture Fund Summit 2004
Thursday, May 6, 2004
Notes by

49 Stevenson Street, #1275
San Francisco, CA 94105

Registered Attendance: 405 people

Held at:
Crown Plaza Cabana
4290 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA 94306

Plenary: Cycles of Urban School Reform
Moderator: James Shelton, Program Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Alan Bersin, Superintendent of Public Education, San Diego City Schools
Joel Klein, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education

JK (former US DOJ anti-trust chief) has been Chancellor of NYC schools for 2 years.
AB (former prosecutor) has been Superintendent in SD for 6 years.

# of Students 1,100k 138k
# of Schools 1,335 187
# of Employees 116,802 17,705
Annual Budget $12.5B $1.1B
Special Ed. 12% 11%
English Language Learners 14% 29%
Free & Reduced Lunch 82% 56%

NOTE: I tried to capture quotes verbatim, but I didn't have the benefit of either a tape recorder or shorthand, so these notes are necessarily incomplete and may not be 100% faithful to the speaker. I do believe I've managed to record the juiciest, most salient thoughts, though!

JS: What is [your goal,] the end state you hope to achieve in your district?
JK: For any of us, you will be willing to send your kids away to any of our 1200+ schools.
JK: In NY, 1 of 2 kids fail out.
JK: We had 40 separate districts, each with their own school board.
JK: We use "student-weighted formulas" [to assign money to schools], we provide "school choice" [for families], and we are trying to create a "performance/excellence-based culture".

AB: Schools have been designed as an "employment mechanism" for adults, not to educate children.
AB: There is no accountability -- teachers say "I've been teaching, why aren't you learning?", as if it is the student's fault. An "excuse-based culture".
AB: The Coleman Report in 1966 [] showed a correlation between parent education/income and student achievement. This gave many educators an excuse not to teach all students. But these kids [from families with low education/economic status], "all they have is school". Myth -- "those kids cannot be taught" -- is provably, demonstrably wrong.

JK: [In existing school systems] the only rewards I can give great teachers are: an easier school [less challenging/needy students], or non-teaching jobs with higher pay → [these are] exactly the opposite of what the incentives [for teachers] should be!
JK: Al Shanker in 1993 in Canada said "as long as we don't talk about student performance [in education], we're just talking about power."
JK: [We need to make] apples to apples assessment of student outcomes, and tie [teacher] remuneration to [those] outcomes.
JK: "value-added" on student performance [is what matters, not absolute student performance]
JK: I taught class at Georgetown, the student who had the best grade [in the class] never came to class, so my value-added [as a teacher] was zero!
JK: [We need to] measure students with pre/post-tests, and reward teachers for impacting children.

JS: "Instructional Gap"?
AB: Cycles of reform, prescribed instruction -- informed professional judgement
AB: We don't really know what good instruction is, ex: English Language Learners
AB: Problem solving is not seen as part of the professional [teacher] ethic
AB: SD has spent $0.25B over five years on professional development
AB: Productivity gains as measured by student outcomes

JS: What "Big Levers" do you have to change schools?

JK: Leadership training; example, schools are used to passing bad teachers around [to other schools, instead of getting rid of them]
JK: Jack Welch (ex-GE CEO) says [administrators and teachers] should think as though we "own shares [of stock] in NYC schools", to get us to think broadly
JK: Bring in coaches, lift work force to new level, schools to a new level
JK: There is no perfect curriculum -- coherence (of the curriculum) is more important
JK: Regular assessment [of students, and teachers?] is very important
JK: If you haven't dramatically changed the graduation rate, you haven't done anything!

AB: "I love school boards" [heavy sarcasm] -- they are an anachronism, should be done away with. Did the 1976 Serrano [v. Priest] California Supreme Court decision [see] have a beneficial effect? It took away taxing power from school boards, so no one [voters] cares [about school boards]. School board members are retired union officials or political wannabees. Unions do what they are supposed to do, but have lost sight of the goal that children must learn. Teachers unions are the most powerful unions in the USA; they think "cannot export teaching overseas"; but they are wrong -- charter schools and vouchers are a big threat to teachers unions.

JK: Mayor Bloomberg was admirable, restructured [NYC Chancellor's] job so I would take the job, blew up 32 local boards + 1 big board, needed to change status quo. New board has 8 members selected by the mayor, and 1 member selected by each of the five NYC borough heads. The mayor is accountable [for the results of the NYC school system]

AB: In San Diego, the Mayor has no control over education. What is more important [than education], garbage [pick-up]?

JS: "Charters and Choice"?
AB: Break the monopoly between public schools and teachers unions.
AB: We are where Detroit was in 1975-1980: break work rules, status quo

JK: Charters are going to be part of our reform efforts, not separate.
JK: What is most powerful is: (1) leadership, (2) autonomy, and (3) accountability.
JK: Goal in NYC is 50 charter schools in the next few years: create greater demand from parents. Note that one of our state charter schools was shut down -- there is accountability!

JS: "Challenges"?
AB: The war is about old attitudes and new values.
AB: Our challenge is to sustain and maintain continuity; the inertial slide is always backwards [to the old way of doing things]

JK: [In NYC I think we will have] a two-term mayor and chancellor -- 8 years is much longer than the 2.5 years average [tenure of the chancellor] in NYC.
JK: [My] Day-to-day [challenges]: help my people to keep pushing ahead, knowing when to push the accelerator or the brake when you hit resistance -- people want to slow down
JK: [There is] no better job than fighting for kids -- and then I read the paper [and read what an awful person I am]
JK: We have seen no dramatic changes since [1954 US Supreme Court decision on] Brown vs. Board of Education [] [in student outcomes].
JK: People want to be part of a success-based culture, but don't want to [do the hard] work for it.
JK: Principal leadership -- [Joel says to his principals] "Every six months, I want to hear how much you are changing the system, and how much is the system changing you?"

AB: Collaboration requires consensus on thought and action.
AB: Adults learn that their learning drives kids' learning.

JS: "What kind of leaders [do we need as superintendents]?"
JK: (1) No coincidence that we are "non-tradtional" leaders -- a euphemism for people with no experience in education. (2) Be prepared that this is not a lifetime job -- lots of eggs will be broken; Jack Welch says "Good money is [betting] against us." (3) A thick skin!

AB: Challenges are primarily political today. "What don't you have that you wish you had?"
AB: Charter schools provide competition, innovative practices, but these two promises [of charter schools] have not been fulfilled: (1) Go forth and multiple (with quality), (2) I appreciate brand, how do we build relationships between districts and charter systems -- need to get to scale.

JK: [AB,] Come to NYC! I don't think alternative system with charter schools helps: autonomous, well-led, accountable schools are what I want to see [inside an existing school district]; UFT charter school in NYC opening soon.

JS: "Co-opetition"? [co-opetition = cooperation + competition]
JK: [That is] key -- don't want to co-opt charter schools

JS: What are the "top 2-3" [information technology] systems you would like?
JK: Value-added [metrics] system, Human Resources system [really necessary for a new person like me]

AB: Professional Development, principal leadership are great -- but quality of teachers is the key thing -- fix seniority, transfer, hire/fire rules [of unions]; there isn't really a teacher shortage, its just that 50% of teachers leave in first 5 years -- we send our least experienced teachers into our most difficult situations; we need study, monitoring, peer-review.

JS: "Do you two disagree on anything?"
AB: Not really.

JK: I moved to school-based budgeting in the first year. I prefer to take off the training wheels sooner than later, ex: focus on uniform curriculum.

JS: "Surprises?"
AB: Absolute lack of understanding and leadership in NE (???)
AB: Passive/Aggressive nature of culture -- people shy from confrontation
AB: Least honest political culture I've ever seen

JK: Absolute lack of accountability.
JK: Risk/reward structure is so fundamentally off

JS: "Define Success"
JK: Measurably -- can you change graduation rates to 6/10, 7/10, 8/10? If not, you haven't done anything. How many graduates are prepared for *meaningful* work or college? → That is *all* that matters.

JS: [Is what is holding you up] "Dollars, or other stuff?"
AB: I'd like a little more money, but until we have a better system, we shouldn't expect more money. AB: [The] System must change before the money will flow!

JS: [Can lawyers use a] "Civil Rights basis to attack [union] work rules?"
AB: No.

JK: No.
JK: Pay for performance, extended day work -- will require more money; but really we need the flexibility to change things.

JS: [What about] "Teacher morale, attitudes in times of change?"
AB: I don't see low morale -- 80% [of teachers] are with us; in a system of 9,200 teachers, only 539 votes to elect the teachers union president.

JS: [What about the hours kids are awake] "Outside of school?"
AB: We need to stay focused on our core business [teaching kids at school].

JK: We have a parent coordinator in each school, a $50 million annual effort.
JK: Our new third grade policy [no social promotion]

JS: [What are your] "Publicly announced goals/metrics?"
JK: We don't publish now, will eventually.
AB: Ditto.

JS: [What about breaking up] "Big schools into several small schools?"
JK: Lots of challenges to doing this: "envy", "safety", overcrowding
JK: Emphasis on leadership: need great leaders, [but they are] hard to find; [making more schools means you need more great leaders!]

JS: "Why are you two optimistic about public education?"
AB: You have to be optimistic; we have to be patient; This is a march for history, toward equal justice under the law.
AB: Optimistic -- slavery, women's rights, civil rights.
AB: Fundamental faith -- I send my 9 and 11 year old children off to San Diego public schools every day.
AB: I see culture change in our schools, some of the lowest performing schools have made the biggest improvements.

JK: You don't take this job if you don't see the glass half-full.
JK: Discussion about education now is different.
JK: Historical destiny -- globalization, 21st century work force
JK: "Desegregate with all deliberate speed" -- Brown vs. Board of Education
JK: New York City -- people told me not to do it, [but] we took on [the 30+] districts, blew them apart.
JK: Staten Island school near housing project -- common prep [periods for teachers], lunch hour meetings [for teachers], working with coaches -- [there is] excitement in the building
JK: Morris High Schoool -- 3-4k students, dysfunctional, low attendance, low graduation rates: we broke into small schools, things improved
JK: Don't lose patience

JS: [The] Most optimistic [people in the US] are Joel, Alan, and the people in this room.
JS: The fight is coming.

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