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PIE conference bubbles with ideas to improve schools

Mike Petrilli

Having written about education in the Twin Cities for a decade-plus, Your Humble Blogger thought she knew a thing or two. I knew, for instance, that Mike Petrilli is executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education-research organization.

He is also the executive editor of EducationNext, an associated, respected magazine which, full disclosure, gave me a very fun freelance assignment several years ago.

But when Petrilli showed up in my Twitter feed Wednesday, I was mystified. “Am working from a @dunnbroscoffees in Chaska, MN, in the middle of @repjohnkline country, before heading to the #piesummit12” he tweeted. “LOVE IT!”

Color me out of the loop. The PIE in #piesummit12 stands for Policy Innovators in Education, a nonpartisan network of 37 member groups involved in education reform in 26 states and the District of Colombia. PIE’s headquarters is located in Minneapolis.

PIE logoAnd the Summit ‘12 part is the group’s sixth annual conference, a meeting of the Who’s Who of the reform movement which began Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis and wraps up this afternoon. I arranged to crash the party, where I got to put faces to a number of familiar names.

MinnCAN, an advocacy group working to promote education reform here, is PIE’s lone local member to date, although representatives from a number of Minnesota groups were present. The Minneapolis Foundation is one of the confab’s sponsors.

As a topic, education reform is inherently political — often divisively so. Yet if you ever needed to demonstrate that its advocates span the political spectrum, the summit roster could serve as Exhibit No. 1. Many of the 200 advocates and policymakers in attendance defy categorization.

Petrilli, for example, was probably the ranking conservative on a panel I attended Thursday entitled “Doing More With Less.” At the other end of the political spectrum was the Center on American Progress’ Cindy Brown. Between them sat Marguerite Roza of the independent Center on Reinventing Public Education, a heavy-duty data analysis effort located at the University of Washington.

The moderator was Colorado Sen. Mike Johnston, a Denver Democrat who “sponsored a bill in 2010 that ended ‘tenure as we know it’ for teachers and allowed job protections only for high-performing teachers, based in part on how well their students do on standardized tests,” according to the Durango Herald.

The topic turned out to be not so much doing more with less as whether education leaders can find some silver linings amid the fiscal cutting. Progressive readers are likely imagining a panel focused tightly on creative ways to assault teachers unions, stuff more kids into stuffed classrooms and slow the flow of federal dollars to impoverished schools.

Not at all. There were some fearsome statistics on the rise in the number of adults working in schools per thousand pupils — up from 58 in 1970 but down a couple from 2008’s high of 127 — and on the compounding cost of educator benefits and pensions. But there was also talk of equity.

Roza rejected the idea that rewarding the highest performing schools monetarily is a good way to do more with less; starving failing schools only guarantees they’ll fail further. Better, she said, to ensure equitable funding for all — possibly via an equalized levy system where state aid is adjusted by district wealth — and to close persistent underperformers.

Other thoughts generated by the panel: What about rewarding highly qualified teachers who volunteer to teach bigger classes with extra pay? How about differential pay scales that pay more for, say, math and science teachers, who are in short supply and whose skill set gives them higher earning potential?

How about higher class sizes in gym but lower ones in reading? Bonuses for master teachers who opt to work in high-poverty schools?

Topics taken up by other panels included why school turnarounds have been disappointing, how to find common ground on teacher quality, promising blended learning experiments, how to get more teachers involved in the reform dialogue and “Principals: Are They the New Teachers?”

Expect to see kernels from these sessions and others appear in this space in the future.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by David Frenkel on 09/28/2012 - 12:15 pm.

    Radical changes

    There are plenty of good ideas out there but I think the US education system needs radical changes instead of small incremental experiments. Since the US educational system loves testing why not follow the model of many countries that are outperforming the US in education. Use testing to seperate children that might be better served by technical colleges and those that are 4 year college candidates. In places like China the brightest students are recruited to attend the equivelent of US military academies. We have to recognize that not all students will achieve at the same rate or have the desire for post secondary education.

  2. Submitted by joel gingery on 09/28/2012 - 03:13 pm.

    Real Educators?

    What do you think would happen if all of these experts were assigned to one of Minneapolis’s schools and couldn’t leave until they had actually “improved” student learning? I’m thinking that they would be doing most of the learning.

  3. Submitted by joel gingery on 09/28/2012 - 03:31 pm.

    Who Died and Made Them King of Anything?

    I neglected one caveat: that any “improving” has to be done democratically; students, teachers, principals, administrators, etc., get one vote each, majority rules.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/29/2012 - 10:59 am.

    For someone who has been covering education deform for a long time, I’m surprised that Beth doesn’t know that the Center for American Progress is NOT liberal; they are a leading light in the corporate deform movement.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/30/2012 - 04:29 pm.

    Schools do many things: lecture, tutor, teach life skills, supervise individual work, and maintain civility and order amongst the little monsters. Lecturing should be a highly paid specialty limited to true experts. Tutoring requires lesser skills, and deserves lesser pay, particularly one on one. Teaching life skills does not require a lot of training, nor do the babysitting parts of the job. We pay teachers to do all of those tasks now, which is horribly unproductive. Schools can be re-organized to let teachers specialize. We just need to be willing to take the plunge and do it.

  6. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 10/02/2012 - 05:20 pm.

    How about fully funding kindergarten and targeted preK

    When the hands down, number 1 way to improve schools, early childhood, is not even discussed, you have to wonder where the real motivation of these groups lies. Especially in Minnesota, where a kindergartner is funded as 51 percent of a human being and preK not at all from the state. Various Noble Ptize economists and Local Federal Reserve researches have put the return at either 8 to 1 long term or 10% annually.

    Seriously, there is no correlate between tenure laws and student achievement, and that gets Herculean effort.

    What we know to be powerfully and efficiently correlated? Nada.

    Reforming the human resources office is not education reform. When the richest nation on the planet, and one of the richest states in that nation cannot fully fund a five year old at their most critical time, where is the form?

  7. Submitted by Brenda Luhring on 10/05/2012 - 09:01 am.

    Address the real issues

    Until we address the “elephant in the room” that everyone seems to ignore, education as we know it now can not be fixed.

    A teacher can not teach if there is constant chaos and lack of discipline within the classroom. In our schools today, we have many students that choose to disrupt classes and act inappropriately, or just not show up to school at all. We do not allow the schools to remove the disruptive students from the class as that would be deemed discriminatory towards the disruptive student. It is then the other compliant students that do not get the benefit of learning because of the few.

    Teachers and adminstrator have few options for discipline anymore:
    – redirect the disruptive student,(does not work and stops the learning for
    -issue a detention; no big deal to the kids, many just don’t show up
    -in school suspension; still no big deal to the student
    -suspension; what many students want, and stops what learning has
    -call the parents in; good luck, if you can get ahold of them. Many come in
    just to cuss at the teachers and staff about how it is the schools’ fault and
    not their child

    It is by no coindence that inner city schools scores are more dismal than that of most suburban schools. It is not about the money, it is about the value placed on education.

    We need parents to step up to the plate and do their job as a parent should. Be a parent not a friend. Teach the value of hard work to obtain success. We are raising our kids to expect immediate gratification. Too many parents are showing their children that it is acceptable to take care of wants before needs. We must teach our children that it is their job to learn and listen and practice and work hard, Teach respect at home, and it will carry over to all aspects of society. We must provide a positive structure at home as children learn by example.

    We are so worried about being politically correct or offending groups of people. It is time to call it like it is, because if we do not address this issue, our education system will never be like we expect it to be.

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