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Big-City School Reforms: Lessons From New York, Toronto, and London Paperback – 30 Apr 2014


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“This encouraging book draws on the recent experiences of New York, London, and Toronto to identify what it takes to transform big-city school systems. It recognises their complexities without being overawed by them. By concentrating on the factors that seem to matter most, it offers real hope that we can now tackle some of the key issues that have frustrated reform efforts in the past”. — Geoff Whitty, director emeritus, Institute of Education, University of London, UK

About the Author

Michael Fullan, Order of Canada, is professor emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

Alan Boyle is director of Leannta Education Associates where he designs professional learning for education leaders.

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x8ffc781c) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fe560c0) out of 5 stars Good Insights 18 Dec. 2014
By George Bush - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Big-city system education reform that focuses on outcomes is quite recent. The most powerful single influence on pupil outcomes is SES, most commonly measured by family income. PISA data show that in some countries this relationship is much stronger than in others - eg. high in the U.S. and England, lower (though still significant) in Canada, Nordic countries, and South Korea. Additional research (Wilkinson and Pickett) show that past a certain basic level, it is not the actual level of wealth that matters in a country, but the degree of inequality. Unfortunately, wealth inequality is rising in many countries, including the three covered in the book. Students' first language, ethnicity, and migration status are also important. Yet, student outcomes almost always vary more within the same school class than between one class and another, and usually vary more within a school than between one school and another. Thus, poverty is by no means an absolute determinant.

In England, national policy has steadily reduced the influence of local authorities to the point that they now have very little control over individual schools. In the U.S., the 14,000 or so districts (mostly very small) still provide the bulk of funding and are powerful players. Canada's 400 or so districts are in between. In Canada and the U.S., principals and teachers are employed by districts, but in England individual schools employ their own staff. In England, funding for schools comes primarily from national government, with most flowing directly to individual schools. In the U.S. 44% of funding comes from local districts, 43% from states, and 13% from the federal government. In Canada, provincial governments provide essentially all the money for schools.

Curriculum is set national in England, provincially in Canada, and by the state or locally in the U.S. Assessment of students occurs nationally at ages 11 and 16 in England, and in Canada most provinces test students at two or three grade levels and by some high school exit exams.

NYC's reforms focused on restructuring (eg. initial centralization, with mayoral control, followed by decentralization opportunities - earned through performance) and directly improving pupil outcomes, not re-culturing. The 32 community school districts, each with their own school boards, were replaced. Many teachers resented the prescribed curricula via young Ivy League non-educator leaders. After a year in control, 29 high schools (including three charters) formed the 'Autonomy Zone' in 9/04. In exchange for increased funding, budgetary freedom, and school-based management, principals voluntarily signed 5-year contracts specifying performance targets (test scores, attendance, graduation rates). Missing targets for a 2nd year brought a new principal, and after a 3rd year the school was to be closed. A new teachers' union contract in 2005 ended 'seniority bumping' under which principals were forced to hire teachers by seniority if they applied for a vacancy at their school. After 2005 principals could appoint the best applicants, regardless of seniority and teachers who lost their jobs through budget cuts or school closures and unable to get another appointment were offered substitute teacher positions. A new position of 'Lead Teacher' ($10,000 more pay) was created - the beginnings of a merit focus. In the 2005-06 school year, another 19 schools joined the zone.

January 2006 brought a focus on cutting $200 million from central and regional administrative budgets and freeing at least another 150 schools from oversight, provided they met their goals. The following year all schools were invited to attain the autonomy. Schools within the autonomy zone formed networks to provide themselves support, guidance, and advocacy. Soon afterwards, schools were allowed to choose between three types of school support and pay for their services from their increased budgets (the former administrative budgets had been devolved down to them). Responsibility for monitoring schools was transferred to the new Office of Accountability.

Fullan sees a change leader's first requirement as that of challenging the status quo, then conveying a high sense of urgency (via data), and then having the courage to intervene and attend to sustainability.
HASH(0x8fd09d68) out of 5 stars Mandatory Reading for Education Reformers 10 Jun. 2015
By Jiang Xueqin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In their book "Big-City School Reforms," accomplished educators Michael Fullan and Alan Boyle examine the systemic reforms in New York City, Toronto, and London during the ten-year period stretching from 2003 until 2012 (Michael Fullan was instrumental in the education reforms of both Toronto and London during this period). The book is academic in tone, and is meant to paint an objective picture of the tribulations and accomplishments of the three cities during this period. But the conclusion of this monograph is clear. New York City's autocratic top-down reforms alienated much of the teaching profession, and whatever gains that Mayor Michael Bloomberg achieved in his early years were quickly eroded by the toxic political environment that his brash management style engendered. Both Toronto and London had their own political problems, but through a combination of "resolute leadership" and consensus-building, both cities achieved long-term, sustainable education reforms.

This book is bound to be mandatory reading in education schools all around the world, and the first case study -- New York City -- will be studied as a textbook example of how not to implement systemic education reform. When Michael Bloomberg came into power in NYC, his ambition was to push market-driven education reforms down the throat of the corrupt and stagnant NYC education bureaucracy. Authority over education was devolved from the state level into the mayor's hands, and the mayor immediately brought in a team of outsiders (US Justice Department lawyer Joe Klein and a young energetic team of Ivy League-educated management consultants) to implement reform. From the outset, Mike Bloomberg and Joe Klein considered public school teachers to be public enemy number one, and their slogan "Children First" suggested that they thought public schools teachers were not at all whole-heartedly committed to their students. They adopted a number of important, wide-ranging initiatives -- such as the promotion of charter schools, smaller schools, and accountability ("testing") -- that garnered a lot of praise in the media, and eventually spread nationally (with the help of the Gates Foundation and other education "reform" advocates). But as a number of critics (such as Diane Ravitch) have pointed out, these reforms accomplished almost nothing, and were even arguably counter-productive. By shutting down failing schools, Joe Klein merely shifted the burden of failing students to other students. And ultimately by alienating those most responsible for implementing reform (the teachers), Mike Bloomberg guaranteed that his reforms never really had a chance.

The counter-example to Mike Bloomberg's business-oriented, market-driven, top-down approach in NYC is the London Challenge (under the leadership of Sir Mike Tomlinson). On the surface, there were a lot of similarities between NYC and London's approaches. Both were fundamentally committed to bringing accountability and assessment into an out-of-control chaotic system, and both believed that good schools could overcome bad backgrounds. But there were key differences at the implementation level that made all the difference in the world. First, the people asked to oversee the reforms in London were experienced educators that had the respect and trust of London's teachers. Second, London Challenge didn't have the dictatorial powers that Mike Bloomberg had in NYC; in fact, they had a great deal of authority, but very little power, so they focused their efforts on advocacy, lobbying, and building consensus. Finally, London Challenge never considered closing failing schools -- for them, it wasn't a viable strategy to shift the burden of failing students from one school to another. Instead, they created a framework for schools to support each other, and encouraged working groups of teachers to share their resources and expertise to help the neediest students.

For Fullan and Boyle, effective systemic reform requires a combination of what they call "push" (top-down leadership) and "pull" (bottom-up consensus building) to counterbalance each other. They also argue that given the complexity of any large system, educators need to focus on identifying a few simple core principles that can be implemented systemically (something they call "simplexity").

The ideas in the book are solid, and are backed by decades of education, social science, and psychological research. But I am sometimes put off by the authors' all too eagerness to extrapolate and generalize based on a few case studies.
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