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Superintendents from across the country convened at AEI on Tuesday to discuss the challenges of choosing high-quality literacy programs, training teachers and improving student literacy. Chicago Public Schools superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard explained that wading through the “mishmash” of existing district, state and federal literacy programs is one of the greatest challenges in developing a clear literacy program for his schools. He noted optimistically that the Common Core State Standards may be the best vehicle to bring coherence to national literacy efforts. While supportive of the Common Core, Newark (N.J.) schools chief Cami Anderson stressed that there is still much work to be done with aligning tests and programs to those standards before schools can rely on them. She cautioned that more standards, more programs and more tests are not the answer: “More is not more; more is madness,” she stated.
Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy highlighted the juggling act his district faces between giving schools and parents autonomy and ensuring high-quality, coherent instruction. Glynn Thompson of the San Juan (Calif.) Unified School District noted another challenge: encouraging teachers to be instructors, not textbook technicians. Echoing the frustrations of the superintendents, Mondo Publishing CEO Mark Vineis remarked that schools without strong leaders struggle to manage reading reforms.
When AEI’s director of education policy studies, Frederick M. Hess, asked the superintendents to explain what Washington could do to help, they asked for fiscal flexibility, clear incentives and standards, and more research. The event emphasized the on-the-ground sentiment that improving literacy takes strong leadership, sophisticated information and coherent programs.
Literacy is the building block of any child's education. But when it comes to improving literacy instruction, many superintendents must navigate a thicket of contractual, cultural and political barriers in an effort to find high-quality solutions. While reading scores have shown promising gains in the past decade, one-third of elementary school students still scored below basic on the most recent NAEP reading assessment, meaning they lacked even a partial mastery of skills needed for proficiency. With the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization looming and Washington's eyes focused on school turnarounds and the Common Core State Standards, we must listen to the voices of dynamic leaders tackling the challenge of high-quality literacy instruction in the nation's school districts and the literacy providers partnering with them. Please join AEI for a discussion of these crucial issues.
ANDREW J. ROTHERHAM, Bellwether Education Partners
CAMI ANDERSON, Newark Public Schools
JEAN-CLAUDE BRIZARD, Chicago Public Schools
JOHN DEASY, Los Angeles Unified School District
GLYNN THOMPSON, San Juan Unified School District
MARK VINEIS, Mondo Publishing
FREDERICK M. HESS, AEI
Question and Answer
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Cami Anderson is an established leader in the national education reform movement with more than 20 years’ professional experience as a teacher, school leader, entrepreneurial nonprofit executive and effective administrator. She was appointed state district superintendent for Newark Public Schools by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in May 2011. The superintendent is responsible for raising student achievement for more than 39,000 students attending Newark Public Schools, the largest school district in New Jersey with a budget over $1 billion. Before joining Newark Public Schools, she was superintendent of alternative high schools and programs for the New York City Department of Education (District 79), where she led a district of approximately 30,000 young people and 60,000 adults enrolled in alternative education programs. A past recipient of the National Teacher of the Year award, Ms. Anderson has also served as the executive director of Teach For America- New York and as a chief program officer for New Leaders for New Schools.
Jean-Claude Brizard is chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest system serving approximately 409,000 students in more than 670 schools. Prior to his appointment in Chicago, he was superintendent of schools for the Rochester City School District in Rochester, New York. Under Mr. Brizard’s leadership, the Rochester City School District saw improvements in student performance in English Language Arts and math, and the district saw a 12-point increase in its four-year high school graduation rate. It also strengthened its portfolio of schools, offering students and families more high-quality school choices to meet student needs. Mr. Brizard’s experience also includes a 21-year career as an educator and administrator with the New York City Department of Education, where he served as a regional superintendent supervising more than 100 K-12 schools serving over 100,000 students. Brizard is a graduate of the Superintendents’ Academy of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems and was also an Executive Committee member of the American Association of School Administrators and the New York State Council of Superintendents.
John E. Deasy is the superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified Public Schools (LAUSD), the second-largest school district in the country. LAUSD serves 800,000 students in over 1,000 school campuses. Previously, Mr. Deasy was the deputy superintendent for LAUSD and deputy director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he lead the national programmatic work on effective teaching. Before joining the foundation, Mr. Deasy served as superintendent of the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Public Schools and earned a national reputation for his leadership in significantly narrowing the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers. He also launched a pay-for-performance plan there that was approved by the Board of Education and developed jointly with labor, making the district a national leader in efforts to reward teachers for gains in student achievement.
Frederick M. Hess is resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He has authored influential books on education including “The Same Thing Over and Over,” “Education Unbound,” “Common Sense School Reform,” “Revolution at the Margins” and “Spinning Wheels” and pens the Education Week blog “Rick Hess Straight Up.” His work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post and National Review. He has edited widely cited volumes on education philanthropy, stretching the education dollar, the impact of education research, education entrepreneurship and No Child Left Behind. He serves as executive editor of Education Next; as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program; on the Review Board for the Broad Prize in Urban Education; and on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 4.0 SCHOOLS and the American Board for the Certification of Teaching Excellence. A former high school social studies teacher, he has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University and Harvard University.
Andrew J. Rotherham is a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. He leads Bellwether’s thought leadership, idea generation and policy analysis work. He also writes the weekly “School of Thought” column for TIME.com and the blog Eduwonk.com and is the co-publisher of “Education Insider,” a federal policy research tool produced by Whiteboard Advisors. Mr. Rotherham previously served in the Clinton White House as special assistant to the president for domestic policy and is a former member of the Virginia Board of Education. He serves on advisory boards and committees for a variety of organizations including Education Pioneers, the Broad Foundation, and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Mr. Rotherham is on the board of directors for the Indianapolis Mind Trust, is vice chair of the Curry School of Education Foundation at the University of Virginia, and serves on the Visiting Committee for the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Glynn Thompson joined the San Juan (California) Unified School District in July of 2009 as the district’s first chief academic officer and was selected to serve as interim superintendent of schools in June 2011. As San Juan’s chief academic officer, he leads the Division of Teaching and Learning, which encompasses all 71 of the district’s preK-12 schools. Under his leadership, the division implemented the district’s first community-developed strategic plan with a focus on comprehensive literacy. He has presented his literacy model at the California School Boards Association Conference, the ASCD annual conference, and the National Education Association Foundation’s Institute for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Prior to joining San Juan Unified, Mr. Thompson was the chief academic officer of the New Haven (California) Unified School District and worked for 20 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) serving in leadership roles in schools, local district offices and in the Division of Special Education. He last served in LAUSD as a principal of a large year-round Title I elementary school that saw Academic Performance Index gains of 100 points during a two-year period.
Mark Vineis, founder and CEO of Mondo Publishing, began his career in education teaching elementary students and English language learners in the South Bronx, New York. Invited to be a literacy staff developer in New York City’s District 2 while Anthony Alvarado was superintendent, he subsequently founded Mondo as a professional development organization. Mr. Vineis has been an integral part of the Mondo Professional Development Group’s comprehensive, research-based literacy school-reform projects in districts across the country. He remains active in Mondo District Partnership Projects, which supports efforts of system leaders, school administrators and teachers aimed at literacy reform and turnaround of school outcomes, often in urban settings. Recently he was part of the team partnering with EDmin and Wireless Generation to develop technology applications for Mondo’s formative assessments and management tools. Mr. Vineis has been a university guest lecturer and presenter at major educational conferences and is a senior author of Mondo’s “Bookshop” Core Reading Program. He is a member of the Executive Board of the American Association of Publishers.