kitchen table math, the sequel: steering & rowing: make all schools charters

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

steering & rowing: make all schools charters

Lynn G put me onto a terrific book: The Price of Government: Getting the Results We Need in an Age of Permanent Fiscal Crisis by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson. Osborne and Hutchinson say governments should budget for outcomes instead of doing what governments normally do, which is to assume that next year's budget will be this year's budget plus. Next year's budget plus is called baseline budgeting.

As to how a government can go about budgeting for outcomes and make it work, they advocate separating "steering" from "rowing":
Politicians love to merge organizations, because it looks like they're taking action to save money. But simply moving boxes on an organizational chart can actually make matters worse, increasing costs while sowing confusion that hampers performance. A much more powerful alternative is to consolidate funding streams and policy authority into "steering" organizations that can purchase results from any "rowing" organizations -- public or private -- that can best produce them.

Budgeting for Outcomes by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson
more:
"... focus on steering, not rowing – making policy and setting direction rather than producing services" (Osborne 1999)

separating steering from rowing in public schools

Osborne and Hutchinson:
Consider public education. A school board is a steering organization, but in the consolidated model we developed in the twentieth century, the board and district own virtually all the schools and employ virtually all the employees, from teachers and aides to custodians and bus drivers. The same organization--the school district--is responsible for both steering and rowing.

We have already discussed some of the problems this creates. Employees with a vested interest have the power to block changes that could help children. With all their employment contracts, regulations, sunk costs, and infrastructure, districts find it impossible to change their offerings fast enough to keep up with what their customers want and need. And those who should steer--board members and superintendents--find their energies sucked into the job of employing people and managing buildings, rather than ensuring student achievement.

A new survey of 100 public school superintendents in large urban districts illustrates these problems. Most of these superintendents, it reports, feel "the job is well-nigh impossible." Their role as employers continually overwhelms their role as purchasers of results. In large cities, school districts are among the largest employers, and as the report makes clear:

Control of the jobs is highly coveted and is never ceded lightly; the jobs themselves become central battle grounds for unions, community groups, and local politicians. No politician can afford to ignore them. And very few do. . . pressures for districts to respond to adults' financial demands rather than the children's education needs [are] a frustrating reality for many superintendents.

One superintendent was even more candid:

The real problem is that the district is a big pot of money over which adults in and out of the system fight to advance their own interests and careers. Better jobs, higher status, bigger contracts, and career advancement are what's at stake. All the public talk about teaching and learning has to be understood as secondary to that economic dynamic.

Does it have to be this way? Of course not. In the late 1990s, the Education Commission of the States--made up of governors, state legislators, state superintendents of education, and other education leaders--created a National Commission on Governing America's Schools. Its members studied the governance system of public education and issued a report recommending that states and districts make big changes in the consolidated model. The first option proposed was to introduce full public school choice, decentralization, and competition, within the consolidated paradigm. But the second was a more radical break. It said, in essence, that those in charge of education should separate steering and rowing. School boards should stop being owners and operators of schools and become purchasers of education programs on behalf of the communities they served. The board should grant charters -- five-year performance contracts to independent groups (teachers, colleges and universities, nonprofits, businesses, community organizations) to operate schools. The commission said, in effect, that every public school should become a charter school.

If this were done, the commission pointed out, school boards could close down schools in which students were not learning, replace them with schools more tailored to the needs of those students, and quickly contract for innovative new schools that embraced technology, used particular learning methods (from Montessori to computer-based learning), and/or offered specific content themes, from performing arts to math and science to community service. When the board closed a school, it would not face the united opposition of every teacher, aide, clerk, and principal; indeed, competitors would line up eagerly to replace it. The board would no longer be a political captive of its employees because it would have so few; schools would be the primary employers.

Teachers in every public school would know that their jobs were safe only as long as students were making academic progress and parents were satisfied. The door to innovation would suddenly swing open, and the size, shape, and pedagogical methods of public schools would change rapidly.

Many superintendents appear intrigued by the idea. In the survey of superintendents of large urban districts, two-thirds agreed that the "district should be able to charter all schools or enter into contracts with schools governed by accountability for education results."

Even more surprising, some districts are already moving in this direction.

[snip]

Barnstable, Massachusetts, has begun to convert each of its public schools to charter status. In California, three small districts have already done the same. San Carlos made six of its seven public schools charters. The Hickman Community Charter District has only three schools, but all are charters. And the Twin Ridges Elementary School District has two traditional schools and two charter schools within its boundaries, but has sponsored ten charter schools outside its boundaries.

The Price of Government: Getting the Results We Need in an of Permanent Fiscal Crisis by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson
p. 128 - 130

Sounds good to me.

I think this is the way services for developmentally disabled adults are funded here in New York. More anon.

13 comments:

Exo said...

I don't know if I can put all my effeort into teaching if I have to worry that my school will be closed due to not rising academic achievement. .... Just thinking.

Exo

Independent George said...

Exo - It's really not any different than me wondering if my company is going to survive the next quarter. I still do my job as best I can, regardless, even if I'm also sending out resumes in the meantime.

The other side of it is that if you are frustrated with your school's management, and are convinced it's going to fail, you'd have the flexibility of interviewing somewhere else without worrying about seniority, etc. The teacher is treated as a true professional, with all the advantages/disadvantages that comes with it.

Allison said...

St. Paul, MN had 63 charter schools as of 2009.

This does not count Minneapolis charters, other Twin Cities metro city and county charters.

63.

Of them, --one-- has excellent academics for k-8. maybe two more have good academics in that range. Basically three, maybe less, have good high school academics.

out of 63.

We've got "innovation" in pedagogy and style and content. We have Montessori schools, arts schools, tech schools, an aero-engineer school, museum scools, community service schools, Hmong schools, chinese, french and german immersion schools, Guess what isn't improving?

All schools becoming charters doesn't make a *private* market out of schools at ALL. There is really little incentive to close schools that have children willing to attend, regardless of academic failures. Parents make decisions on things other than academics.

But making all public schools charters does destroy the private school market for any school with tuition LESS than the per capita spending by the district. Parochial schools will fail, less expensive privates too, because they will have to compete with "free". The middle class entitlement will be complete. Only the upper class schools will survive.

If unions can pivot, they will see that they can own charters without much trouble. The money is what matters. The money and the ed schools.

Exo said...

Independent George, you are right, "It's really not any different than me wondering if my company is going to survive the next quarter. I still do my job as best I can, regardless, even if I'm also sending out resumes in the meantime." That's what I've done and what I do. However,"Teachers in every public school would know that their jobs were safe only as long as students were making academic progress and parents were satisfied.". That's what it is now in my school. and until I'm tenured, I am evaluated and reevaluated on scores, on lessons, on how many parents called to complain. I always do my best. But I truly think that by HS the achievement of students is 70% the choice of students. And that must be accounted for.

And maybe... I am simply tired. I changed 3 schools in last 4 years (just due to circumstances). I want it stable and secure so I can worry only about delivering my subject the best way I can and not of looking for another job... Getting old?

Allison said...

Honestly, reading more, I understand less.

How exactly does a charter school not have the same steering and rowing problem?

Perhaps this depends on how the state implements charters, but the board of the charters here have to deal with the facilities, the staffing, the busing, and everything just as they also try to steer.

The "role of employers continually overwhelms their role as purchasers of results" is not something I understand in the rowing/steering context. Heck I don't understand the idea that separate organizations handle the vision and the execution.

Vision is necessary, but not sufficient. Execution is sufficient to move a company whether or not it's in the right direction. Execution of a good idea matters 1000 times more than the good idea.

Just think of a company. Companies are employers and have to create results. (I don't know what "purchaser of results" means.) They row and steer. The rowing is not separate from the steering.

How can you guide your mission and your vision if you can't *hire* and *fire* to fulfill that vision?

In a company, there is a big pot of money over which adults in and out of the system fight to advance their own interests and careers, too. At Google, they (largely) all succeed. At GM, they (largely) all fail. In all cases, better jobs, higher status, bigger contracts, are at stake for the employees. The difference is that at Google, that stuff is still secondary to the mission of building tech products, while at GM, it's primary and building cars is tertiary at best.

But what that has to do with separating rowing and steering is beyond me. I don't buy that on a daily basis, boards are operators of schools. Everything I see is that boards for big districts are rubber stampers of the superintendent and the rest of the hierarchy.

At charter schools, there are again boards--and whether they effectively steer and leave the rowing to others depends on how much heavy lifting has already been done. Charters build the boats from scratch, so they are often busy keeping the thing afloat. One uber school board can't possibly steer all of the charters in their various visions. It doesn't even make sense to ask them to. so in what sense are they steering?

Karen W said...

PSG tried to reinvent my state's government a few years ago. It sounds good but the reality was that paying for results meant writing up contracts for results that were really inputs (provider will meet with child and family 2x weekly). Other gimmicks included cutting state payments to local government--they were to make it up in parking fine revenues when the state uncapped parking fines (parking violations dropped). Or disguise regent budget cuts by sending full funding but charging rent for Univ. use of state buildings. Public ridicule stopped the legislature from implementing the last one.

Jason said...

"San Carlos made six of its seven public schools charters."

This is a bit misleading. One one of the San Carlos "charter" schools acts any differently from a regular non-charter public school, and the school district web site only lists this one school as a charter.

See this blog entry from a member of the San Carlos school board: http://rosenblatt.org/blog/2009/10/23/charter-schools-in-san-carlos-our-unique-identity/

Catherine Johnson said...

But making all public schools charters does destroy the private school market for any school with tuition LESS than the per capita spending by the district. Parochial schools will fail, less expensive privates too, because they will have to compete with "free". The middle class entitlement will be complete. Only the upper class schools will survive.

yup - we're seeing that here

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm pretty sure the world of services for adults with disabilities is managed this way here in NY.

The money is attached to the adult, who is called a 'consumer' (I never understood that until I read Price of Government); the guardians choose which agency the adult will 'serve' the adult & the money is paid.

It's much cheaper for the state - which has led to our current situation, where the state plans a 10% reduction in payments to agencies while unionized state workers will receive a 3% raise.

Nevertheless, I vastly prefer this system to the public schools, where you don't have choice and the money isn't attached to the child.

Catherine Johnson said...

I would **really** love to see the union be the building principals' problem, not the school board's.

Also, I would love to see the building principals here lose money when they lose students.

Instead, they get wealthier, if anything.

Lose 10 kids between 1st & 2nd grade & get a raise

Get a couple of raises.

Catherine Johnson said...

oops - I just re-read the post & saw that I repeated myself....

Another terrific book: The Other Invisible Hand: Choice and Competition in the Public Sphere by Julian LeGrand.

His term for artificially created markets is "quasi-markets."

Catherine Johnson said...

re: 1 in 63 ----- you're preaching to the choir!

We're having regular citizen uprisings here in Irvington now, but we **still** haven't had a citizens' uprising re: phonics. For instance.

I am a one-man band.

Catherine Johnson said...

That's not quite fair, in truth. We had a citizen's uprising last year on the subject of the English Language Arts curriculum; there was one over the adoption of Trailblazers, too.