The heart of NYU Wagner's programs is our faculty. An amalgam of full-time, clinical/research/visiting, and adjunct professors, they are outstanding teachers, expert researchers and committed practitioners.
Amy Ellen Schwartz writes:
Cathie Black's appointment as New York City Schools Chancellor came at a difficult period. While her predecessor, Joel Klein, enjoyed swelling public coffers and large increases in per-pupil spending, Chancellor Black takes office at a time when the budget is shrinking, certainly significantly and maybe substantially.
At the same time, while Chancellor Klein claimed standardized test results "proved" his reforms were working, the recent adjustments in those metrics have fueled doubt about whether - and to what extent - his hallmark strategies such as replacing large comprehensive high schools with new, small schools and increasing school autonomy "worked." Even more, the turmoil created by opening and closing schools - and the attendant expense - raises questions about the sustainability of these reforms.
Bottom line: Cathie Black faces considerable challenges in the months ahead and it behooves us to help her succeed. In that spirit, I offer the following suggestions.
Beyond "What Works": While education officials and policy makers tout the importance of finding out "what works," we need more than that. We need to figure out "what's worth the money" or what gives the biggest bang for the public buck. Is the high cost of new small schools worth the money, or would we do better to invest in mid-size schools or schools-within-schools? Unfortunately, relatively little attention has been paid to the costs of interventions and reforms and so the evidence base is thinner than it should be. This is a gap that needs to be filled.
Special Education is Critical: Between 2002 and 2008, full-time special education students increased by 20 percent, from just over 82,000 to over 98,000. (That's an increase from 7.5 to 9.5 percent of total enrollment.) At the same time, direct per pupil expenditures for special education increased 31 percent. Together, this means that Special Education eats up a larger and larger share of the budget, threatening to crowd out spending and services for general education students. (My forthcoming paper with Leanna Stiefel provides more detail.) While federal and state rules and regulations place significant restrictions on classification, services, and so on, the school district can and must find ways to deliver required services in the most cost effective way possible.
Don't overestimate the value of value-added: Although evaluating the efficacy of teachers and schools using test score based value-added measures has undeniable intuitive appeal, the usefulness of these measures in improving schools now is much more limited than the publicity might suggest. For one thing, value-added measures can only be calculated for a fraction of teachers in NYC public schools. (Currently, only about one in five.). More importantly, however, it seems unlikely that value-added scores will identify significant numbers of previously unidentified "bad teachers" that can then be dismissed to make way for (or save the jobs of) otherwise-hidden "great teachers." I am certain that value-added analyses have an important role to play in education policy and practice in the long run - and equally confident that the short-run returns will be fairly small.
Moving Matters: Chancellor Klein was fond of saying that much of his reform efforts were guided by a desire to create a system of good schools and not a good school system. In practice this meant that accountability fell to individual schools for the students currently enrolled. Who, then, is responsible for making sure that students enroll in schools that can provide the services they need? That they choose "well"? In a different vein, a growing body of research shows that student mobility between schools - prompted, say, by family dissolution, foreclosure, or behavioral or academic problems - harms their performance and, potentially, affects their peers. Helping students navigate between schools, adjust to new environments, and succeed will mean attention and accountability for the school system and not just a collection of good schools.
One of my colleagues once claimed that every home in New York City was within walking distance of one of the best public schools in the country...and one of the worst. As a parent and alum of the New York City public schools, I wish Cathie Black the best of luck in her effort to make all of our schools better.
Stiefel, L., Schwartz, A. E. (2011). "Financing K-12 Education in the Bloomberg Years, 2002-2008" in Jennifer A. O'Day, Catherine S. Bitter and Louis M. Gomez (Eds.), Education Reform in New York City: Ambitious Change in the Nation's Most Complex School System (pp. 55-84). Cambridge MA: Harvard Education Press.
Stiefel, L., Schwartz, A. E., Conger, D. (2010). "Age of Entry and the High School Performance of Immigrant Youth." Journal of Urban Economics, 67:303-314.
Former U.S. Senate leaders Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Trent Lott (R-MS) sized up the often-fractious political climate of today at a public discussion sponsored by NYU Wagner's John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress on Feb. 2, 2011.
In 2001, the two ex-senators traded roles as Senate majority leader three times. But sitting in armchairs in Vanderbilt Hall and speaking before an overflow crowd of almost 500 listeners, they were congenial -- especially in comparison to the often-fierce partisanship that has defined recent sessions of Congress.
Rogan Kersh, Wagner professor of public policy and associate dean for academic affairs, was the moderator. "It can be reassuring to return to an earlier time," he remarked.
Although Daschle and Lott lamented what they called a loss of comraderie among Congress members, they maintained that leadership has been, and will remain, the key to overcoming strained relations between the two parties.
Neither was despairing about today's political atmosphere. Indeed, Lott said, "The Senate was designed to be dysfunctional .... to cool off the hot action of the House." In addition, he noted, major legislation, such as the national healthcare overall, gained recent approval despite its highly controversial nature.
Bohnett Fellows from NYU Wagner joined with their counterparts from UCLA and the University of Michigan in attending the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. on January 19-21, 2011, with Professor Rogan Kersh. After sharing information, insights, and ideas with more than 200 of the nation's mayors and many other public service leaders, the Wagner students offered these reports:
"It was by far one of the best networking opportunities of my life. Most of the Conference participants were mayors, and between sessions there was ample time for me to walk up to people and introduce myself. I was amazed at how engaged many of the mayors were. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter must have talked to us for half an hour one evening: He was really interested in what we had to say and fielded all of our questions, including some pretty tough ones, with aplomb.
"I was incredibly impressed with the mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan. The conference included many speakers from the national stage, including Nancy Pelosi, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Trade Representative Ron Kirk, House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica, and Alaska Senator Mark Begich. These folks usually spoke for awhile and then took questions from the mayors. Almost without fail, Mayor Quan's hand would slowly rise, she'd be called on, and then, with perfect posture and composure, she asked the most pointed and well-informed question imaginable. It made me happy for the people of Oakland. They've got a real policy wonk running the place.
"More broadly, it was great to be around Republican and Democratic politicians talking about actual issues - from handgun violence to job creation - without reverting to demagoguery It was the sort of situation that might restore a person's faith in the American political system."
"When elected officials are talking about economic development, I expect to hear more about financial incentives than about public services. But the economic-development drivers the mayors were discussing included developing exports, attracting foreign investment, and producing a highly skilled labor force through education and workforce training. Mayors and federal officials echoed that cities must cooperate across other governments and sectors to succeed in these areas. It's not surprising that President Obama articulated some of the Conference's major themes in his State of the Union address of Jan. 25, 2011. Getting to speak personally to some of the mayors completely changed my perspective on urban government, and my work this semester is going to reflect it.
"The Conference was also the first time the Bohnett Fellows at all three schools were able to come together. I really connected with a Fellow from the University of Michigan over our work in Northern industrial cities. She lives and works in Detroit, and I came to NYU from Pittsburgh. I found that we could swap war stories about managing decline, but at the end of the day we were talking about common points of growth and battling inequality."
Elizabeth H. Guernsey:
"The trip to the Conference of Mayors winter meeting was definitely one of the highlights - if not the highlight - of my Wagner career so far. The access to and conversations with so many mayors was great. I came back from the Conference inspired to know that so many smart people are working in local government and really focused on making our cities great places to work and live. I was also struck by the mayors' signing of the Civility Accord in reaction to the Tucson tragedy. It was refreshing to hear the mayors talking about their cities in a nonpartisan way.
"A highlight of the trip was meeting with the Fellows from the other schools and hearing about the work they are doing in other cities. Another highlight was attending the Mayors Against Illegal Guns meeting, and hearing mayors talk openly about what they think needs to be done to protect public safety in our cities. The mayors were able to talk honestly and openly without worry that they might upset their constituencies."
The David Bohnett Public Service Fellowship for incoming Wagner students offers "...a great opportunity for students to directly engage in the challenges of governing our vibrant and diverse city," according to David Bohnett, Chairman and Founder of the David Bohnett Foundation. The Fellowship provides full tuition support and summer stipends for three Bohnett Fellows per year. These students must be enrolled in either the Master of Public Administration (MPA) or Master of Urban Planning (MUP) program and express an explicit interest in working for municipal governments to solve our most urgent social issues. The David Bohnett Public Service Fellowship also allows two fellows a terrific opportunity to intern at the highest level of NYC government. The third fellow gets to take on exciting work with the current President of the US Conference of Mayors, which has an ongoing partnership with Wagner.
Politico.com's "Playbook," a roster of the latest DC news and happenings compiled by reporter Mike Allen, included the following item on January 19 about NYU Wagner's Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Administration Doug Band:
"ALUMNI NEWS: After conceiving and building the Clinton Global Initiative, Clinton counselor/consigliere/post-presidency architect Doug Band recently joined the NYU staff as an adjunct professor and will use his nearly 16 years working for the Clintons to teach a public service, policy and politics course (despite earning his master's and law degrees from Georgetown). Doug also serves on the international advisory board for Coca-Cola, and on the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Vote Vets boards, all while still running Clinton, Inc., helping heads of state around the world transition out of office, and raising his son Max, who recently turned one (and has started walking), with his wife Lily in NYC."
Professor Sonia M. Ospina will serve as a co-editor of the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, a top-tier journal of public administration.
As the official journal of the Public Management Research Association, it serves as a bridge between public administration or public management scholarship and public policy studies. Having served as an active reviewer, Dr. Ospina will now be one of six co-editors shaping the articles submitted and selecting what is published.
Professor Ospina is Faculty Director of RCLA -- the Research Center for Leadership in Action.
After working for more than four years alongside Mayor Cory Booker to improve public education in the City of Newark, NYU Wagner alumnus De'Shawn Wright (MPA '02) has garnered an exciting new position in public service -- he has been named the new deputy mayor for education by Washington, D.C., Mayor-elect Vincent Gray. The Mayor-elect was quoted referring to Wright and another new appointee as "top-notch professionals" in policy and management for large and complex urban school systems.
Gray chose Wright, who formerly worked for the New York City Department of Education, on the strength partly of his school reform work in Newark, N.J. In addition, Wright served as a partner with the Newark Charter School Fund, which was successful in gathering support to help fund the city's charter schools.
Since graduating from Wagner, Wright has returned to Wagner on numerous occasions, including in 2009 for a public event with Mayor Booker. We wish him well as he begins his latest leadership position.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown participated in an engaging public discussion cosponsored by NYU Wagner on Dec. 14, 2010, describing what he sees as hopeful economic possibilities presented by globalization. Brown spoke before an audience composed largely of students, and was interviewed on the stage at Vanderbilt Hall by Robert M. Shrum, the renowned U.S. political consultant and Senior Fellow at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
Introduced by NYU President John Sexton as the University's inaugural Distinguished Global Leader in Residence and "one of the great citizens of the world," Brown in turn hailed what he called NYU's "path-breaking" initiative as the first global network university.
During the discussion with Shrum and a question-and-answer session with the audience, the former prime minister focused on the prospects for growth in European, U.S., and African exports and employment that China's rapidly expanding economy may generate in the years ahead. In light of the 2008 financial meltdown, Brown also spoke of a pressing need for consistent rules and standards for responsible behavior by markets and governments worldwide. He also discussed his role in recognizing the necessity for his government and that of the U.S. to recapitalize tottering European banks as the meltdown was happening.
"We had capitalism without capital - the banks did not have enough capital," Brown said. Through his efforts and those of other world leaders, "we avoided what could have been a Great Depression." He stepped down as prime minister in May, 2010, after his Labour Party lost control of Parliament.
A current Member of Parliament, Brown was in New York to publicize his new book, "Beyond The Crash." Asked by an audience member about the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables, Brown said while American policy was predominantly shown to be honest, "there are certain parts that you'd question, certain parts nobody will like." He said he had suffered personal "embarrassments" from the release but then noted, "You've just got to accept that."
Afterward, the former prime minister signed copies of his new book, chatted with students about their programs of study, and posed for photographs. An article on the event published in the next day's New York Times described the reaction of one NYU Wagner student, who has lived in London. Patrizia Mancini commented: "I have to say that he seems like a different person. He's way more relaxed. As a politician, he would seem fake when he smiled, but now he seems so natural."