Duncan will meet the education secretary Michael Gove and tour a London school on Wednesday. The coalition's controversial free schools are inspired by the US charter schools movement, which often demand longer hours from teachers and impose strict discipline on children.On the same day of Duncan's visit, Gove announced a £110 school initiative aimed at turning around "underperforming" schools. Sound familiar? It's modeled, says Gove, after the Race to the Top. And, like the cutting of food stamps to pay for the $10 billion education aid while staving off cuts to two prized pots of cash, RTTT and TIF, this £110 investment was made by cutting back on extensions to the free lunch program. Here's a snippet from a recent Guardian article:
He said: "I just have tremendous respect for the educational work and the leadership that I've seen coming from the UK and we're all working on the same issues and have the same challenges."
The talks with Gove will focus on how to "elevate" the teaching profession, bringing in committed new teachers while ensuring bad ones are eliminated. Both Obama and Duncan have taken a tough line on failing teachers, praising education officials who fired all the staff at a school in Rhode Island in February after they refused to work a longer day.
Gove and Duncan are also expected to look at how best to evaluate teachers' performance, and how to reach "historically under-served" communities.
Duncan has a bigger budget than any previous education secretary, but has made states compete for federal cash by favouring those that are most ambitious in reforming their schools, under the Race to the Top initiative. New York got nearly $700m (£437m) after adopting a new system for evaluating teachers that took students' test performances into account.
Duncan said: "I can't speak for the UK, but I will tell you, in the United States, teacher evaluation is just fundamentally broken and over 90% of teachers receive an exceptional rating in our country." This was demeaning to teachers, he said, failing to reward good teaching or to remove those were failing. "The systems aren't working for any of the adults – I promise you it's not working for the children. It's part of the problem."
He backed a vision of "free schools" which are funded by the taxpayer but able to adopt their own teaching methods and vary the curriculum. Duncan accused critics who said these schools would flourish at the expense of existing state schools of indulging in "phoney debates".
Money saved by scrapping free school meals for half a million primary school children will be used for a scheme under which groups compete for cash to improve England's worst-performing schools.When the Brits aren't consulting with our top education official about how to improve teaching (cringe!), creating RTTT knockoffs (yikes!), they're copying one of the other staples in the education reform movement: the proliferation of organizations that spring up in this new education marketplace (hide under the desks, kids!). The premier model in the US would be the NewSchools Venture Fund, but there are many other organization that do a combination of lobbying, funding, advocacy, consulting, PR, development, and provide other support services. Enter the New Schools Network. From the Guardian:
Academy sponsors, councils and headteachers with an outstanding track record will be encouraged to bid for funds to turn around struggling schools in a contest that will reward those that offer the most ambitious plans for reform.
The cash will come from an endowment fund started with £110m of public money, saved by a coalition decision to scrap an extension of free school meals to all primary schoolchildren living below the poverty line. The government plans to outsource the project to a City fund manager, who will assess the bids in consultation with education experts. The education secretary, Michael Gove, said he expected the fund to pay out up to £10m a year.
He said: "We will invite bids from people who want to turn round under-performing schools and the bids will be assessed on the degree of ambition and rigour they show.
"Are they ambitious in showing a clear path of improvement for under-performing schools, and are they rigorous in showing the money will be used either to develop already tried and tested methods of raising attainment, or pioneer new ways of raising attainment?"
The money could be spent on monitoring the performance of individual teachers, extending the school day, or providing one-to-one support for some children.
The funding, which will come on top of the pupil premium, could also lead to higher pay for teachers who generate the best results. Gove said: "My view is that, while I can think of some of these things, the purpose of the fund is to generate a greater degree of innovation." He compares the fund with Barack Obama's Race to the Top initiative, under which US states compete for federal cash.
Michael Gove's education department failed to invite applications for a £500,000 grant to assist parents setting up free schools, before awarding it to his former adviser.Similar organizations in different countries facing different socio/economic/political environments will have some unique differences, and it's difficult to tell exactly how Wolf's venture will pan out. Like the early visions of charters, the "free schools" can be operated by teams of experienced teachers, parents, and community groups. They can also be operated by top-down management organizations and for-profit providers (although the latter are excluded, I believe, from Gove's £110 million fund). Look for Wolf to eventually push the British equivalent of CMOs: if you're looking to grow, as they say, "to scale," the CMO model is the one embraced by corporate/free-market reformers. New Schools' webpage does say US charters can be run by parents, teachers, or community organizations, but the examples they list of groups running charters are KIPP, HCZ, and American Indian Public Charter Schools. The rest of the rhetoric on the organization's website mirrors much of the US "reform" crowd (competition, education marketplace, business-style reforms, corporate speak), and they're likely to borrow from the deformers as the network expands.
The New Schools Network, a charity and company run by the education secretary's former colleague, Rachel Wolf, 25, was awarded the grant by the Department for Education in June. No other organisation was asked to bid for the work, which was not publicly advertised.
The disclosure in documents released under the Freedom of Information Act could heighten some of the criticisms the new schools have attracted. The schools, which are independent of local authority control, will allow groups to create more autonomous schools with small class sizes, Gove argues, though critics say they could wreck social harmony by creating ethnic or religious enclaves. [Note: unlike charters, free schools may admit up to half of their students based on religion]
The network – which is yet to receive the money – is at the heart of the plans for the schools which were inspired by US Charter schools and has a role in the application process.
If anything, the establishment of the New Schools Network is a nod to the perceived (and real) efficacy of NSVF. They're a powerful network of players in the education reform field, and almost everyone in what many consider the anti-teacher/privatization movement has ties to the group. In combination with big philanthropists and other actors, NSVF has effectively pushed the (likely) unsustainable CMO model (both financially and in terms of teaching) to the exclusion of others. This does not bode well for "public" education, and only further delays the need to address pressing issues while further entrenching the testing/competition/standardization/privatization movement.