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When Universities Run Schools ... Into the Ground

In the 1990s, a number of universities got into the business of running charter schools, with compelling plans to match the vast intellectual resources of their faculty with the educational and social service needs of impoverished communities, but eventually many universities failed this task.

Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College who is researching contractual relationships in education, said that the education schools are under increasing pressure to prove their relevance in the real world of K-12 education.

“The ed schools I think in some cases are being enticed into the business of running schools, either as charter schools or as contract schools [with local districts] to let them show that they have something to contribute. In some instances, this can be well thought-out and well-considered on the part of the ed schools, but in other cases the administration may jump in on this ahead of the faculty,” said Henig.

“When an administration is really intent, when an administration raises money and really highlights an issue, it can usually draw folks in its wake. But when the administration is indifferent or when it’s an inherited initiative that it didn’t initially buy into from the previous administration, or when it simply goes from fascination in one issue to something else because it’s looking for new areas to focus on, then unless real care has been taken in terms of institutionalizing the commitment, I think there’s a high likelihood of institutional drift.”

“This is hard stuff,” Henig said. “An administration that thinks it’s going to jump in and run a school that’s going to be a beacon, that it’ll be able to run around and brag about to potential students and potential donors, is likely to find that it’s more likely to be, at least in the early stages and possibly over the long term, the kind of thing that it has to make excuses about. To say, ‘Well, we’re getting the toughest kids.’ Or, ‘The state accountability measures don’t take into account our high levels of special ed kids or our high levels of non-English speakers,’ or whatever. So it becomes, rather than a trophy in the case, it becomes a potential skeleton in the closet.”

The article, "When Universities Run Schools ... Into the Ground” appeared at August 7th on the website ""

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