Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baltimore school CEO at Washington Policy Center this morning

Washington Policy Center's Education Breakfast - Update at bottom WPC had a good crowd at the Seattle Westin Hotel this morning for their breakfast featuring Baltimore CEO of schools Dr. Andres A. Alfonso. They spent little time on prelims - just a short video overview of their activities - so they could give the time to Dr. Alfonso. He immigrated from Cuba when he was 12, went to public schools in New Jersey, then Harvard Law School, then a career change to education with a Dr. of Education. After serving as #2 in the New York City schools he went to Baltimore three years ago. His first school board meeting was picketed and the unions had a vote of "no confidence" before schools started! His big sin? Calling for collaborative planning. But that was an aside. He arrived with a track record of success in getting changes in NYC. He was schocked to learn that Baltimore's enrollment was declining by over 3% per year. Some of that might be the population aging, but most of it was families leaving and kids dropping out. He set out to work with the Baltimore educators to find ways to turn around that enrollment decline. He repeatedly emphasized "having a conversation" His changes got more resources to the kids who needed them - to prevent dropouts, etc. And he gave the principals more control over the resources in their schools. But this was not a positive sum situation. When one school gained $1 million another lost - maybe as much. He also reorganized central services to be more responsive. He didn't get much into how they (not he) reallocated their resources, but we were given a WPC Policy Note by Liv Finney that describes "Fair Student Funding" which did the redirection. Fair Student Funding involves empowering the school principal and giving him/her control over most of the budget and the people who work in the school. Aside: Some of those "conversations" must have been arm wrestling… How is he doing? The enrollment decline ended the first year and growth has returned. Test scores are up, drop outs are down. Due to the limited time he showed only a few slides of his presentation. You can view or download the entire presentation at WPC [PDF]. Update: Speaking with Bob Hughes, a member of the State Board of Education who attended, he pointed out some things. First, Dr. Alfonso said that teachers get ten days of inservice training per year, which is a lot. Hughes says that that much training makes a big difference: it is treating the teachers as professionals and it improves their classroom skills. Second, Alfonso's presentation shows charts of student performance on state assessments over six years. Student performance was climbing before Alfonso arrived. Credit for him for showing this: he gets credit, but not all of it.

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