Review: Philip Howard on Fixing Education

Philip K. Howard is a lawyer, author and chair of Common Good. He is the author, most recently, of Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America. In a recent Atlantic piece, Howard pitched a five part bureaucracy busting platform:

#1 No Child Left Behind should refocus on transparency of student achievement by uniform standards that require a common test across all states and evaluate the progress of individual students, not just schools.

That’s the half of the idea behind Common Core standards.  The other half is real college/career ready standards.
This data can inform educators, families, and the community, and provide the tools to track the development of each students.This data can inform both educators and the community. Punitive sanctions that drive educators to “teach to the test” have proved counterproductive and should be discarded.

#2 There should be mutual disarmament of bureaucratic requirements by both school administrators and unions. Detailed rules should be replaced by general goals and principles. Disputes should be resolved informally by a school-based committee, not formal legal proceedings.

#3 Accountability should be a core value in schools, as it is in life. Teachers need a new deal, giving them more freedom with more accountability.

The only way to accomplish these two is to sunset state code and local contracts and take the next two years developing a new coade and bargain that looks like the 10 elements of Digital Learning Now. Howard wants accountability but there’s not really any teeth in this proposal–the state needs to be able to close bad schools and turn off bad providers.

#4 School budgets and programs must be adaptable, and must allow administrators to balance the needs of all students. No students should have first call on school resources.

Digital Learning Now has better advice here: funding should be weighted, portable, and performance-based.  Howard’s “no student’ comment is code language for special ed–the only part of the system that operates outside the concept of a balanced budget.

#5 Teachers and principals must have the authority to maintain order and build a culture of respect. Due process should be available for long-term suspensions or expulsion, but should not corrode daily disciplinary authority.

I appreciate any effort to take a comprehensive and innovative look at school governance — it will be as important as technology in creating a system of education that helps all children achieve at high levels. But this is a pretty thin platform with lots of holes.  To his credit, Howard is right about the fact that we need a full reset when it comes to governing America’s schools.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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