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.
And 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.